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Thursday, April 22, 2010

People in Glass News Networks Shouldn't Throw Stones

I wrote about Jon Stewart's response to FOX News' yesterday, but only briefly. Taking one last trip through my RSS feeds last night, I found a post by Steve Benen that convinced me to go into a little more depth. For those of you who need catching up, a Daily Show/FOX News feud all started with this segment, where Stewart called out FOX on their hypocrisy:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Tea America
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Now, as you can see, The Daily Show wasn't just critical of FOX, but of the news media in general. While it's fun to show how goofy the teabaggers are -- God knows I love to -- TV News spends very little time showing how wrong they are and explaining the issues. Still, at the end, Stewart singles out FOX. Apparently FOX believes the rest of the media is generalizing about the teabaggers, which is the worst thing ever, but that it's entirely fair for FOX to generalize about liberals. Stewart ends the segment the only way a rational, dispassionate media critic can -- by telling FOX, "Go f*ck yourselves."

Strangely, this didn't really fly with two of the people mentioned in Stewart's segment -- Bill O'Reilly and Bernie Goldberg. Here's the aftermath:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bernie Goldberg Fires Back
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

New rule: when you've got a gospel choir singing "Go f*ck yourself!" to you, you've probably picked on the wrong show.

But for a long time, I've been saying that The Daily Show offers some of the best media criticism out there. And the reason is simple; comedy depends stupidity and absurdity. This means that a comedy show commenting on the media will go straight to either or both of those two wells and, in doing so, cut straight to the point in a simple manner. As Stewart himself points out, people have been using comedy this way for generations. But a better point is that comedians are under no obligation to create a phony equivalency -- to be what FOX calls "fair and balanced." You don't get equal time. So, if Jon Stewart wants to make fun of people who don't believe in global warming, for example, he's under no obligation to tell a joke about them, then get one of them on the show to rebut the joke.

The result of this is a trimming away of the BS. News networks tend to do the opposite -- what's called "equal time for nutjobs." If you have a story about global warming, you get some anti-warming quack or some corporate mouthpiece to interview, because you have to be "fair." As a result, the arguments for and against anthropogenic warming seem to have equal weight -- when they don't. The clear majority of scientists backing the current consensus (90%) completely overwhelm the minority skeptical of it. Global warming denialism is a fringe position. Yet you'd never know that from watching talking heads on cable news.

And so, when Goldberg derided Stewart's audience as "unsophisticated," he was way off the mark. And it's here that Benen's post got my attention:

[T]here's a related point I wanted to emphasize that Stewart didn't mention. In 2004, the National Annenberg Election Survey found that Fox News viewers were the most confused about current events, while viewers of "The Daily Show" were among the best informed news consumers in the country. Comedy Central, relying on data from Nielsen Media Research, also found that Stewart's audience not only knew more about current events, but were far better educated than Bill O'Reilly's audience.

Three years later, the Pew Research Study published a report showing that "viewers of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have the highest knowledge of national and international affairs, while Fox News viewers rank nearly dead last."

I went ahead and grabbed a poll graphic from that Pew study for you. It's pretty enlightening.

Poll graphic
Click to zoom

When it comes to people who actually know the facts about the issues, as opposed to opinion, FOX did a terrible job. At 37% to 35% you actually could've read random blogs and got better information than you got from FOX News. And, at 54% to FOX's 35%, Daily Show viewers were better informed than FOX viewers.

So, we have hard numbers to show that FOX News sucks. They have no business being offended when someone tells them to "Go f*ck yourselves." The best way to prevent accusations of being an almost completely useless news organization isn't to attack your critics.

The best way is to stop being an almost completely useless news organization.


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1 comment:

M said...

When Stewart did his big spot-on Glenn Beck show, I thought it probably couldn't get much better than that, and Jon was in rare form.

I've now watched the Go F#*k yourself! bit at least four times now. I think I'm done, but like you said, when you've got a Gospel choir backing you up telling you to go fuck yourselves, you really have messed with the wrong people.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart doesn't win all those Emmy's for being Fair and Balanced.

By the end of the Go F*#k yourself bit, I was actually clapping and doing a little dance and singing along like a profane revival in my living room-- laughing my ass off the whole way through with an aching belly and a hearty "bwahahahahaha!"

Fox News-- "The Lupus of News."

What's striking, and maybe a little lost in all this, is that The Daily Show w/Jon Stewart still out-classed Fox News over the backdrop of a choir singing-- "Go Fuck yourself!"