Jon Stewart, the Great Coffee Cup Scandal and the Phonies at FOX

Probably you have already  seen the clip from the Daily Show a few days ago regarding the  feigned outrage at FOX  “news” regarding President Obama saluting a Marine with a coffee cup in his hand.  But it is just so brilliant I have to link you to it in a minute just in case  you missed it.

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watching cable news is probably an unhealthy addiction I have, especially as FOX tends to disgust me in its coverage while MSNBC has irritated me more and more over the years as they have become more and more  FOX’s polar opposite.

Many there are more liberal cheerleader than journalist.  They have a slogan  “lean forward.”  and call themselves  “progressives”  and often act as if one who questions their thinking is regressive.

As you might guess, I have gravitated to watching CNN more than the other two simply because they irritate me least.

But as irritated as I sometimes get with MSNBC, they do not prompt disgust like  FOX does, though I hadn’t clarified exactly why until Jon Stewart made the picture crystal clear the other night.

It is the phoniness at FOX that gets me beginning with the claim to be “fair and balanced” in their coverage.   Hah!  In the clip you are about to see, Stewart shows how phony Fox news people can be when appearing  outraged.   The folks at MSNBC at least seem honestly angry.  They are biased but not shills like so many at FOX.

In the desire of FOX management to fault President Obama for as much as they can, their puppet news people seem scripted with talking points.   The other day one of the points must have been:  Hammer Obama for showing disrespect to the troops by saluting a Marine with a coffee cup in his hand.

But enough of my reactions.    Enjoy the brilliant Mr. Stewart pop some phony wind bags at FOX via this  connection through the the Daily Kos.

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A Real Political Debate is as Rare as a Great Prize Fight

The Pacquiao-Marquéz rivalry known for its lac...

The Pacquiao-Marquéz rivalry known for its lack of a definitive triumph suddenly had the most definitive ending of them all. (Photo credit: Erolle)

Barack Obama and John Boehner met two days ago and their aides are remaining mum, other than rumors that Obama made a proposal Sunday and Boehner just made a counter proposal today.    I can’t imagine much of a real deal taking place at this time, though perhaps a small agreement can come about while  kicking the rest of the cans down the road months into 2013, per usual.   We can only wait and see.

In the meantime, anyone like to watch prize fighting? I love a great fight and the Pacquiao-Marquez one Saturday night was great, a battle between two skilled warriors dramatically ended by one Marquez punch in the 6th round (*1).   Great fights are rare, but so is real political debate these days.   Mostly we have two sides flailing their talking points about, often with feckless moderators allowing lies and lesser truth misdemeanors  to score hits below the belt.

An exception would be the Jon Stewart interview of Governor Chris Christie a few days ago.   Stewart has been called the Walter Chronkite of our time, which I think is fitting in that our political scene has literally become  a joke over the past 30 years or so,  and parody is the best way to illuminate its phoniness.  Christie, on the other hand, has been called a rarity by newsman Bob Sheaffer:  “A politician who actually answers questions.”   In short, two men worth listening to when they tangle.

While no knock out punches were thrown, there was lots of sparring in what was a real debate.   Some of that debate was edited to fit the show, but you can see it in its entirety at the link shown at the bottom of this post.

There were three segments, like rounds, totaling about 26  minutes, but you can watch each separately if you don’t have the time or inclination to watch them all at once.  In the first round there were mostly love pats, two Jersey boys having some fun and building rapport, including Christi proudly telling of a hug he recently got from Bruce Springsteen.

Things got serious in the second round, though, as Stewart kept punching away at the Republican tendency to see things others need as “mooching” entitlements.   He said more than once that cancer for someone who lacks health insurance is a personal example of what a hurricane is to many, a tragedy as in New Jersey, stating that Republicans can see the need of relief for a whole region in an emergency but not the calamity of an individual who can’t afford health insurance.   Christie parried those blows and got in a few shots of his own in a debate that helped illuminate the issues involved.

In the third round, there was less punching and more badinage once again with the two agreeing on one thing in particular:  Real political debate seldom breaks out anymore.

Well, it broke out here, which is why I recommend your taking a glance via this  Huffington Post ink.

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(*1)  A related political tidbit:  Mitt and Ann Romney had seats ringside compliments of the chair of the Nevada State Boxing commission.  I didn’t know he liked boxing, but there’s a lot I don’t know about him because he has wanted it that way.  I’m waiting for someone to shed light on the matter with a book possibly titled:  Who was Mitt Romney?

Jon Stewart’s Wit Helps the Medicine Go Down

English: President Barack Obama tapes an inter...

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While pondering which glum topic to touch upon today, I became inclined to write about the fact that President Obama had not met with a single foreign leader who visited New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly.   As described in Newsmax, this prompted criticisms and at least quizzical reactions from several quarters.

Add me to the list.  The fact that Obama made time to appear on The View accentuates the anomalous situation.   Meeting with foreign leaders is what  Presidents have generally done in situations like this.  Given the unrest in Egypt, for example, meeting the new President of that country seemed like a good idea in particular.

The White House has defended the decision with a “if you meet with one you have to meet with a lot of them” kind of logic (though in the past, Presidents have seemed capable of drawing a line).  They have also noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have a number of bilateral meetings with leaders.

But it seems to me there is something important in having the “big guy” meet with at least a few of these leaders, especially when he finds time to appear on The View.    Despite all of our connective contraptions, or perhaps because of them, there is still something special about face to face meetings, especially with people you must deal with on important matters but haven’t met.   If this were not true, business executives would never bother to fly to meet each other.

President Obama has often been characterized as aloof and virtually incapable of schmoozing and if he is to become more successful with Congress this next term (assuming the world economy doesn’t  collapse by then, making Mitt decidedly more attractive as the Un-Obama) a more personal touch seems likely to be needed.   If he gets re-elected I’ll get back to this point in a later post.

Since beginning to write this post I ran across a clip from The Daily Show this past Tuesday, Sept 25.   In typical Jon Steward fashion he captures  the oddity of the Obama U. N. mini-appearance in a laugh-out-loud way, then follows it up by making fun of Mitt Romney’s lame campaign and ends with a serious  interview with King Abdullah II of Jordan.   The last part helps give some perspective on the Muslim/Arab world and the limits of U. S. power there.

For Romney supporters who cannot stomach more bashing of their candidate (even if in gest), you could go to the link above to see Obama bashed and then use this link to skip to the end segment interview with Abdullah which I think would be interesting to most.  You will have to endure a several second commercial there first, but aren’t we all used to that by now?

This is me reaching out to those to the right of me.

That’s Entertainment: The Tabloidization of Network News

As indicated in my previous post, the dissolution of public trust was

A title card still from the April 4, 1968 edit...

initiated in the years of  President Lyndon Johnson.   After inheriting the presidency with JFK’s death, he won his own term over Republican Barry Goldwater by using the latter’s  extremist language against him.   The Johnson team came up with a campaign ad that would become  legendary, that of a little girl pulling the pedals off a daisy, while in the background a voice was counting down to an atomic explosion (*1).

It was the first of our present day attack ads,  combining the visual power of television with the selective use of an opponent’s words to distort the truth.  If you believe in karma, the Democrats have been suffering pay back in recent years.    I would say the Republicans, led by the whirling Dervish of Spin, Carl Rove, have become much better at slurring opponents than the Dems.  Perhaps the Dems might prove up to the mud slinging task in the days ahead, which might prompt election victories, but at the further cost of public trust, supposing we have any more to lose.

Of course, it is not the ads alone which take kernels of truth and gin  them up into falsifications through exaggeration, facts-out-of-context or just plain lying.   Each party vies to make us voters buy its narrative of history in which each are the good guys and the opposition the bad.   Bombarded daily with misleading ads and party talking points, we need more help sorting things out and calling out the liars than in the old days, but we receive less.

While there is a growing number of fact checkers, which I’ll get to in a later post, our network media is of relatively little help.   As the spinners of falsehoods have become more skilled, our network news teams have become less so, because their primary business is no longer to analyze the news.  Instead, it’s to entertain us.

It is the end result of the tabloidization of American media.   And, to a great extent, we the public asked for it.  We want to be entertained;  it is the contemporary opium of the masses.  Decades ago, the tabloids referred to a handful of magazines that sensationalized news, and made up some more, like the National Enquirer  (*2).   Back then tabloid magazines were fodder for jokes by educated people like myself, who might  furtively glance at the headlines (“A Martian made me pregnant!”)  between unloading our shopping carts, but would not be caught dead with a copy in our possession.

What would Walter Cronkite think?  As I have indicated elsewhere, for decades prior to his retirement in 1981, Cronkite was the embodiment of the impartial journalist (*2).   To protect that image, he refused to do advertisements, which cost him millions.    After he retired, CBS got a new president and, according to Cronkite, that’s when the standards started to slip dramatically, as the new CBS president thought news should be more entertaining.  In awhile, all three networks placed their news department under their entertainment divisions, operating budgets were cut and like all entertainment, the news people were expected to generate ratings.

In retrospect, it seemed almost overnight news teams, especially local ones,  looked more handsome and pretty, were more chatty and chipper, and expert at soberly reporting  some huge accident with lots of bloody footage, and then seconds later able to laugh at the latest Hollywood shenanigans.

It was as if they all saw Entertainment Tonight as their stiffest competition.  But being news people they had to draw the line somewhere short of structuring a program around Mary Hart’s million dollar legs.

That show debuted in 1981, the same year Chronkite retired, a curious coincidence because entertainment values would come to call the shots for most news programs.  The ’80s gave rise to many cable channels,  most noteworthy CNN, which actually contributed to hard news,  receiving kudos in reporting the First Gulf War.  It hasn’t always been the brunt of Jon Stewart jokes.

Fox and MSNBC, the other two of what have been called the big three cable networks,  didn’t come along until the mid-nineties.  Fox began as a lonely beacon of light for the right (their self-portrait not mine), while MSNBC has gravitated to a similar position on the left.   That is not to  draw a false equivalency between the two.   Fox is clearly more unbalanced and more unfair more often.  But I do hand it to them for noting the success of Mary Hart and hiring many pretty women with nice legs shown off in short skirts.

Not that the cable networks offer nothing of news value, but both MSNBC and Fox essentially “speak to the choir”.  They give their respective sides more verbal bullets to fire at the enemy (*3).  And CNN?  Check with Jon Stewart.

In any event,  you do understand, don’t you, that analyzing the news is secondary to making money?    That’s understandable given our system and our inclinations, but unfortunate in terms of our enlightenment.   There is not enough news (not news Americans want to hear) to fill all those cable hours, even when providing filler ad nauseam in political speculation by pundits who largely say what you’d expect them to say, because if you watch for awhile, they’ve already said it.

Sordid sensationalism helps fill in time slots while attracting even more viewers  (do you think they’ll ever find the body of the Holloway girl in the Bahamas?), but to refrain from being pure tabloid, the stations go for political controversy as one of their staples.

Even when it’s made up.  Why else would Donald Trump, America’s neediest attention grabber, actually get covered on numerous occasions for claiming to have investigators digging up the truth of Obama’s birth?  And never pushed to produce a shred of evidence.  Why does any reputable news network  give any time to such a bogus issue?

Because controversy draws viewers, which earns money for the networks and there is no one around these days with the authority of a Walter Cronkite to dismiss it all as rubbish.  This is the end result of the tabloidization of network news.

Cronkite’s authority was so great, that when in 1968 he declared the Vietnam War unwinnable, so a peace must be negotiated, President Johnson reportedly said:   “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.”

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(*1)  The Daisy ad still is still a topic of discussion.   For example, check out a panel discussion at Louisiana State last fall.

(*2)  Of course, the Inquirer earned journalistic stripes for uncovering the John Edwards scandal, but a history of focusing on sleeze helped.

(*3)   I do often watch three cable political discussion programs, one from each of the cable “big three”:  Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, and Fox Sunday News with Chris Wallace.  The Hayes and Zakaria shows I watch more often, because their format encourages discussion.  Wallace’s  show, while actually “fair and balanced”, tends to be a battle of talking points, so there is more noise and less light.   Hayes is on both Saturday and Sunday mornings and the other two on Sunday mornings.