Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How the Media Ought To Work

I thought this post would be a little late, but the Stewart-Cramer interview still seems to be simmering in the press, kept alive by both the reaction of the celebrity pundits and the performance of the MSM. In fact, there has been so much reaction in the press, I thought I would try to pull it together in an effort to evaluate the long term effect of the confrontation might have, if not on the behavior of the media, on the public's perception of the media.

First, the blogosphere associated with the traditional print media has jumped in with fulsome praise for Jon Stewart. Among those counted in this groups are Francis Wilkinson (Jon Stewart's Moral Majority) in The Week, James Fallows (It's true: Jon Stewart has become Edward R. Murrow) on his Atlantic blog, and Andrew Sullivan (To Catch A Predator) on his Atlantic blog. The "unattached" blogosphere also reacted in much the same way: Nate Silver (Stewart Destroys CNBC, Cramer, Disses “Doucheborough”) on FiveThirtyEight.com, Deb Cupples (Stewart v. Cramer: Jon Sums up CNBC and Wall Street, Jim Appears Humbly Apologetic) in BuckNakedPolitics.typepad.com, Patriot's Quill (Stewart v. Cramer: Just Devastating) on PatriotsQuill.blogspot.com and on Talking Points Memo (Stewart's Triumph: What it says About "Journalism" and Government) as a small sample.

Then followed the MSM attention, first in the New York Times TV Watch section (Economic Meltdown Not a Laughing Matter) by Allesandra Stanley, Troy Patterson in Slate (Cramer vs. Stewart: The Daily Show showdown was mesmerizing but not quite satisfying) and Michael Calderone on Politico (Media critics pile on Cramer, CNBC). Even the Friday News Roundup in the Diane Rehm show on NPR spent a significant portion of the first hour discussing the event. There were a few dissenting views such as Megan McArdle in her Atlantic blog who equally disliked both Cramer and Stewart but seemed to believe that the Comedy Network was equally obliged as a news network to present the news in an unbiased manner. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the MSM does not seem as enthusiastic about Jon Stewart's approach to interviewing as does the blogosphere. Might that be because the blog authors state clearly that the MSM has much to learn from Stewart's technique, his pointed questions and his research on the interviewees? Some of them, such as Politico.com, appear to only parrot the Republican talking points. Another negative commentator was Tucker Carlson (Tucker Carlson Rips Jon Stewart Repeatedly), who, we should note, has a personal reason for grievance against Jon Stewart (see below).

I hope you have noticed that I have not used references to the "left-wing" press. These are all mainstream or even openly conservative media outlets. The "unattached" blogs less so, but none radical. Unfortunately, the effect on the press has not been immediate, as shown by John King's recent interview of Dick Cheney on CNN, which was an exercise in softball, if not wiffleball. This interview was critiqued by Arianna Huffington in The Huffington Post (What If Jon Stewart, Instead of John King, Interviewed Dick Cheney).

Stewart kept popping into my head as I watched John King interview Dick Cheney on Sunday. Each time King let Cheney get away with spouting gross inaccuracies and revisionist history, I kept thinking how different things would have been had Stewart been asking the questions. Stewart without the comedy and without the outrage -- just armed with the facts and the willingness to ask tough questions.


Daniel Sinker commented upon the mistaken message taken by the press from the interview also in The Huffington Post.

This is not the first time that Jon Stewart has had a strong effect on the MSM. In fact many credit him with putting an end to CNN's Crossfire program with this appearance on the show.

Jon Stewart's interview with Jim Cramer is unlikely to pull any programs off the air. We can hope that it will, over the longer term, cause more reporters to remember who they are responsible to, not the fat cats currently in power, (or just out of power, we hope, as Dick Cheney) but the people to whom their reporting is to inform. In all of the current articles on the state of the newspaper industry, I don't recall having seen any discussion on how the perceived relevance and honesty of the reporting itself could affect whether people would be willing to support the newspaper.

Update: A new poll of 450 people who viewed the Stewart-Cramer interview agrees with the bloggers that Stewart destroyed Cramer by a margin of 74% to 9%.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Remember this?



Sweet Dreams!
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