Thursday, January 06, 2005

Jon Stewart's power is mighty

You doubt the influence of The Daily Show's host? Foolish mortal. For you see, Stewart is more than just one of the funniest men in television history. In his spare time, he's also a puppetmaster, toying with the lives of political commentators and destroying their livelihoods with a few disdainful words.

Still not a believer? Then you might want to ask conservative bowtie-wearing pundit Tucker Carlson where his job went. CNN declined Wednesday to renew Carlson's contract, and the network's chief executive, Jonathan Klein, announced plans to cancel Crossfire. You might remember that as the show where Stewart eviscerated both Carlson and liberal talking head Paul Begala in October for what he called their "partisan hackery" and then begged them to "stop hurting America" with their shouting matches. In canceling Crossfire, Klein said, "I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp."

Now if we could just get Stewart to bring his force to bear on Sean Hannity, Larry King, and Bill O'Reilly, it might be safe to watch cable news again.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you be any more anti-conservative?

I mean, I would have probably said "Tucker WHO?" before that bowtie-wearing fruit interviewed Jon Stewart. But let's not turn Carlson's firing into a call to get rid of every pundit we dislike.

Sure, Hannity trys to make you equate conservatism with being American (or vice versa), and O'Reilly, well, maybe he's a little full of himself, but if you listened to some of these guys, you could tell that they have some good ideals. The right isn't all dumb as the blue blue Dems would have you to believe.

And you group Larry King in with the other two? King softballs every guest, both liberal and conservative. He doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same graf as the other two.

But if we got rid of these three men, who's left? McEnroe? (Nope, he's gone.) Dennis Miller? (Is he still around?) Chris Matthews? (What channel is he on?) Greta? (Who did her plastic surgery?)

12:03 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Anonymous poster, identify thyself!

Now, on to your comments. I lumped Hannity, King, and O'Reilly together because they represent what is wrong with prime-time cable news today: It's either a shouting match or a fluff fest. I don't need to hear the same conservative and liberal talking points every day, nor do I care to see hours of programming devoted to softball questioning or the latest trial du jour.

When I turn on a cable news channel, I want to see hard news. I want to see CNN and Fox News and the other TV news channels focus less on sensational programming and more on hard-hitting reporting. That doesn't make me a partisan; that just makes me a proponent of TV personalities using their air time responsibly.

Stewart, if you'll notice, criticized the conservative and liberal talking heads alike, and so do I. On Crossfire, Begala and James Carville are no better than Carlson and Robert Novak; they all just try to score style points instead of engaging in any substantive discussion. The same principle applies to Hannity and O'Reilly and, though I didn't mention him in the original post, Hannity's cohort Alan Colmes. They're all reducing political discourse to nothing more than a shouting match, and as Stewart said, that's hurting America.

Prime-time slots on cable news channels are rare and valuable, and in addition to the pursuit of ratings, they carry with them (or at least should carry with them) a moral responsibility to act in the public's best interest. I'm not opposed to news analysis shows, but I want them to be more thought-provoking and less frenetic and vitriolic. The original Crossfire format had panelists debating one or two meaty subjects for an hour, and doing so in a civil manner. We could use more shows like that, shows that seek to bring people together and reach common-sense solutions instead of deepening people's divisions and reinforcing their preconceived notions.

In O'Reilly's defense, he does sometimes use his public platform to do some good reporting (e.g., the United Way's 9/11 donations scandal). But when was the last time you saw Colmes do some investigative journalism? When was the last time you saw Hannity ask a Republican politician a tough question? When was the last time you saw King ask anyone a tough question?

I never said these TV hosts are dumb, and the fact that you would infer that I think they are just aids my point that the level of political discourse in this country is suffering, due in no small part to these guys' dog-and-pony shows. I think anyone who manages to keep a prime-time show for as long as these people have must be intelligent, and intelligent people can disagree with others without impugning their intelligence. That's what frustrates me so much about prime-time cable TV shows: I know the hosts are capable of engaging in polite, reasoned debate; they just don't.

One final, minor point: Carlson wasn't fired; his contract just wasn't renewed. Either way, the end result is that you're no longer an employee, but there is a difference.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, didn't mean to not identify myself.

The problem with desiring hard news versus the talking heads is that the talking heads will get more viewers than straight news will msot of the time. The talking heads and ther arguments are usually more dramatic than stright-up news, which is why the networks put them in primetime.

Besides, is there enough news to fill 24 hours a day? O'Reilly is on for three hours a day as each episode repeats, and other shows on Fox News and CNN tend to repeat during the day. If the channels filled those repeated hours with actual coverage, they'd likely lose viewers and ad dollars, likely resulting in dimished production quality and fewer staff members.

Cable channels have a "moral responsibility to act in the public's best interest"? I'd say broadcast networks have that responsibility, and you see that in local newscasts, but cable networks are free to do what they want and have no obligation to public interest, as they do not use the public airwaves like the broadcasters do.


12:41 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Broadcast networks have not just a moral but a legal obligation to act in the public interest as a condition of retaining their broadcast licenses. Cable news networks have no such restrictions, but even if it sounds a bit naive, it'd be nice to think that executives' consciences would lead them to want to do right by the public. You're correct that the shouting matches are on the air because they're more theatrical and get higher ratings than hard news. Ratings may indeed be the ultimate moral arbiter in the television industry, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

As I said before, I have no objection to debate or analysis shows, but a little civility and rationality on them would go a long way toward healing the nation's political divide.

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all actuality, neither the broadcast nor the cable networks have any moral responsibilities. If they did, we wouldn't be subjected to Who's Your Daddy, The Biggest Loser and (Gasp!) Will and Grace. (Somehow, Gerald Allen heard that and is working on a bill to ban that, too.) Yes, the broadcasters have legal responsibilities in their programming, but look at the evening news and ask if they're really acting morally or just in the interest of the dollar. Though it may not be prevalent in Tuscaloosa, the Atlanta stations seem to show those stereotypical nightly news programs that "scare" you into watching them ("A common household product may kill you. We'll tell you what it is at 10.")

Sure, networks are legally bound to show educational programming and public service announcements, but other than the religious networks, I don't think morals play into programming decisions.

It seems as though you stated that the networks have that moral responsibility at first, but then in a following post you say they you would "like" them to carry that responsibility. Seems like you're waffling and flip-flopping.

Man, I'm starting to sound like Marlin Caddell, but I guess we both showed a little Marlin in this post by talking about morals and such.

Our flame wars are too small. We at least need a third to join in on some of these.


12:44 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

From my first comment: "[T]hey carry with them (or at least should carry with them) a moral responsibility to act in the public's best interest." If you think that statement constitutes "waffling" or "flip-flopping" or whatever other old-and-busted, silly phrase you'd like to use, then go right ahead and believe that. I've been consistent in saying that broadcasters should act in the public's best interest even if they aren't required to do so.

I'll note that you said in your second comment that broadcast networks have a moral responsibility to the public, but in your latest comment you said the exact opposite. Which is it?

3:01 PM  

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