"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Friday, August 27, 2004

Fact from fiction

The same professional writers who can't distinguish fact from fiction seem also to be unable to derive fact from fiction (although they're pretty good at turning facts into fiction). This has been made abundantly clear by the many screwy analyses of John Kerry's recent appearance (Part 1, Part 2) on The Daily Show.

I discussed this topic in an earlier post whose premise was that the genre of literature known as fiction "speaks truth about human nature and relationships" and that "[g]ood fiction can teach us more about truth than any so-called 'reality show' ever could." You might think that a professional writer would have at least a basic understanding of this.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tim Cuprisin is one of those who doesn't seem to get it. He is offended that "a Milwaukee reader wants Inside TV & Radio to 'retract' its assessment of Comedy Central's 'Daily Show' as a 'fake news' show." He quotes The Daily Show's Jon Stewart as saying "We're a fake news organization" to back up his argument.

Now hear this: FOXNews' use of the slogan "Fair and Balanced" doesn't magically make it so!

To see why The Daily Show -- despite its host's claims -- isn't nearly as fake as FOXNews or CNN, we simply need to look at this retelling of a Kafkaesque exchange between Jon Stewart and Ted Koppel:
There have been dozens of press failures during this presidential campaign. But this one, even given the Times' and the Post's belated efforts to get to the bottom of things, has to rank as a low point.

And it certainly did nothing to help the mainstream press' credibility with what is an increasingly dubious audience. The most telling comment on that front may well have come from the unlikely duo of Jon Stewart and Ted Koppel, who shared a telecast during the Democratic convention. Koppel, by way of introducing his own viewers to Stewart, complained that "a lot of television viewers -- more, quite frankly, than I'm comfortable with" -- get their news from Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

Stewart, seemingly trying to reassure Koppel, responded that what his fans were watching for was not news per se, but rather a "comedic interpretation" of the news. Koppel was unmoved. Stewart's audience watches him "to be informed," Koppel insisted. "They actually think they're coming closer to the truth with your show."

With that, Stewart pounced. "Now that's a different thing, that's credibility; that's a different animal." [Emphasis mine]
How does Jon "Fake News" Stewart do it so much better than the "real" journalists? It doesn't have to be that difficult. Sometimes a simple yes-or-no question will suffice. Take a gander at this:
Stewart: […] As any good fake journalist should do, I watch only the 24-hour cable news. This is what I learned about you—

Kerry: All right.

Stewart: Through the cable news. Please refute if you will. Are you the number one most liberal senator in the Senate?

Kerry: No.

Stewart: Okay.

Kerry: You happy with that? (LAUGHTER)
Too bad Dana Stevens (the writer from whose article I extracted that segment) wasn't satisfied with such directness. (She didn't think it was funny either.) While Stewart's questioning of Kerry was done in a comedic context -- a "fake news" format, if you will -- that brief exchange brilliantly illuminates how the news media never asked even the most simple question possible. Stewart was making fun of the so-called "real" journalists who seem to get their information by "watch[ing] only the 24-hour cable news" and who'd rather perform in attack poodle mode and repeat the conservatives' lies than to actually seek out the truth.

The Toronto Star hit the nail on the head when they said, "Only the jester speaks the truth."

Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!
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