The Real Fake News

Speak Fake To Power

The cast and writers of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show have taken on an awesome assignment. While delivering biting satire on the events of the day, they are also savagely exposing the journalistic failure of the conventional media.

Anchor, Jon Stewart, is fond of referring to the program as the “fake” news. He displays an abundance of modesty that suggests that he truly doesn’t grasp the impact this program has on its viewers and its conventional news counterpart. Peter Jennings, in naming Stewart the ABC Person of the week, said that he is

“…the man who often says in public what the rest of us tend to say only in the newsroom.”

The recognition the program receives belies Stewart’s protests that all he does is a funny show on a comedy network that follows puppets making crank phone calls. The show has won five Emmys. It won a Peabody award for election coverage. The Columbia Journalism Review included Stewart on its list of the nation’s 10 most influential political reporters. Newsday placed Stewart on their list of the 20 media players who will most influence the 2004 campaign. Ranking lower on the list were the likes of Tim Russert, Ted Koppel, and Sean Hannity, among others. And yet, when Stewart is confronted with compliments about his strikingly funny presentation of important social events, his response is that

“…that either speaks to the sad state of comedy or the sad state of news. I can’t figure out which one.”

I’m going to have to go with the latter.

The Daily Show’s popularity is significant and growing. It has averaged about 1 million viewers per episode this season, surpassing the total number of viewers for real cable networks like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. This audience is not, as Bill O’Reilly tagged them, a bunch of “stoned slackers”. According to the National Annenberg Election Survey, Daily Show viewers know more about election issues than people who regularly read newspapers or watch television news. They are 78 percent more likely than the average adult to have four or more years of college education. O’Reilly’s audience is only 24 percent more likely to have that much schooling.

Which is the Real Fake News?

People turn to trusted sources to deliver the information they consider important about their lives and their world. And young people are increasingly turning to The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert, a Daily Show correspondent, has said that he doesn’t believe that viewers learn anything from the show. He contends that, if they weren’t already knowledgeable about political and social affairs, they wouldn’t get the jokes. This is certainly true, but it is possible for well informed persons to become better informed. The Daily Show does this often by juxtaposing a news event with additional relevant information in a way that other news outlets do not. For instance, earlier this year they played a video that aired on most news programs of Bush praising the productive spirit of the American worker in front of warehouse shelves chock full of the fruits of their labor. However, The Daily Show was the only broadcast that aired the camera zooming out to reveal that the scene of the fully stocked shelves was actually a painted backdrop. And in front of the president’s podium was a stack boxes with tape covering the words “Made in China”.

The evidence that The Daily Show is educating or enhancing the education of its viewers is borne out by the fact that viewers are choosing it as a source for news. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 21 percent of people aged 18 to 29 cited The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live as a place where they regularly learned presidential campaign news. By contrast, 23 percent of the young people mentioned ABC, CBS or NBC’s nightly news broadcasts as a source.

The Daily Show has proven that it is a trustworthy purveyor of the news. Unfortunately, the “News” has done no such thing. With news fabricators like Steven Glass (New Republic), Jack Kelley (USA Today) and Jayson Blair (New York Times), representing only the fraternity of those who were caught, the mainstream media’s credibility is in freefall. Dan Rather’s sloppy reportage on the Texas Air National Guard’s special treatment of young Lt. Bush helps to speed the descent, as does Fox’s Carl Cameron who posted a false Kerry story on Fox’s web site by accident.

Even worse is when the government and the media work in concert to deceive. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that

“…the General Accounting Office concluded that the Department of Health and Human Services illegally spent federal money on what amounted to covert propaganda by producing videos about the Medicare changes that were made to look like news reports. Portions of the videos, which have been aired by 40 television stations around the country, do not make it clear that the announcers were paid by HHS and were not real reporters.”

WTVF in Nashville is one of the stations that aired the video. They later admitted that they learned of the segment’s fraudulent sourcing from watching The Daily Show’s coverage of the matter.

Recently, Jon Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire. This program should be added to the curriculum of all journalism schools. From the very beginning, Stewart ripped into the famous bickerers and was unrelenting throughout. In the belly of the beast, Stewart accused them of being pawns to the politicians and corporations adding “…You’re part of their strategies. You are partisan…what do you call it…hacks.” He lamented that they are doing “…theater when you should be doing debate.” When Tucker Carlson belittled him by suggesting that he get a job at a journalism school, Stewart replied saying “You need to go to one.” Most memorable, however, was Stewart’s response to Carlson’s insult that “… you’re more fun on your show. Just my opinion.” Stewart fired back “You’re as big a dick on your show as you are on any show.” The next episode of Crossfire had co-host Robert Novak coming to Carlson’s defense declaring that he thinks Stewart is not funny, and that he knows Stewart is uninformed. He did not say how he knows this. Maybe he disagrees with Stewart’s pet name for him: the Douche Bag of Liberty.

This kind of uncensored honesty is almost never seen in the conventional press. But maybe it is just what is needed now. USA Today reported last year that

“Public confidence in the media, already low, continues to slip. Only 36%, among the lowest in years, believe news organizations get the facts straight, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows.”

While esteem for the media is spiraling ever-lower, respect for The Daily Show continues to grow. It receives awards for both its humor and its news content. And it performs the function of a media watchdog, alerting us to the hypocrisy, collaboration, and contrivance of the corporate-dominated media.

If it seems depressingly ironic to you that the mainstream media is now being monitored and corrected by Comedy Central’s “fake” news, the only advice I have is to watch The Daily Show. It might cheer you up for at least half an hour.

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Sinclair Broadcasting’s Election Tampering

Sinclair Broadcasting is inserting itself into the presidential election in the most abusive way imaginable. They are ordering their 62 affiliates to preempt regularly scheduled programming to air a dubious and blatantly anti-Kerry documentary, Stolen Honor, produced by a former Washington Times writer.

This is the same company that forbade its affiliate from airing the episode of Nightline, The Fallen, that paid tribute to soldiers that died in Iraq.

Several groups have sprung up to oppose this programming decision, among them:
Stop Sinclair is an online petition.
Boycott Sinclair has complied a list of advertisers to put pressure on.


Redstone’s Vote: What Would Viacom Do?

Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, the parent company of CBS, told the Wall Street Journal that he’s backing George W. Bush for president.

“I look at the election from what’s good for Viacom. I vote for what’s good for Viacom….from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on.”

Redstone has previously described himself as a liberal Democrat. He has been a reliable source of contributions to Democratic candidates and even co-chaired Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign in 1972.

So why the conversion?

Hard-boiled cynics might point out that CBS is embroiled in the RatherGate fake memo debacle and this political rebirth is an attempt at penitance. As I am only soft-to-medium boiled myself, I will only allude to what the hard-boiled cynics might say. The more significant revelation is that Mr. Redstone is confessing to giving his vote away to the corporate institution that he controls.

The right to vote in this country is the citizen’s opportunity to to have an impact on the nature and direction of the government. The most basic principle of democracy is that the voter has the ability to make decisions about government that are in the voter’s and/or the public’s interest. If corporations were meant to have a vote in these matters, the Constitution, or a subsequent amendment, would have granted it (perhaps I shouldn’t give them any ideas).

This is important because of the inherent differences in the interests of citizens and the interests of corporations. While the public interest may be broadly diverse ideologically, it remains within boundaries that affect lifestyle, welfare and culture. These include personal and community concerns such as family, healthcare, education, security, even morality. On the other hand, corporate interests are neither broad nor diverse nor even ideological. They have only one agenda: to return value to shareholders. That’s a perfectly good agenda to be discussed and voted upon in the boardroom (although it wouldn’t hurt to introduce some morality there as well). But it is wholly inappropriate for that standard to be applied to the civic duty we engage in when voting.

Mr. Redstone has done a disservice to his fellow citizens by allowing his most selfish and mercinary impulses to overpower his common sense and patriotism. I would hope he has second thoughts about his vote and his public announcments of support. He can still choose to act on what’s best for America as a whole and not on what’s best for the congregation of Viacom shareholders.


The Official Debate Rules Handbook

  • The candidates may not ask each other direct questions.
  • The candidates shall not address each other with proposed pledges.
  • The candidates will refrain from acknowledging that anyone else is in the room.

  • Prior to the debate, each candidate must submit any paper, pens and/or pencils to the Commission staff.
  • Prior to the debate, audience members will be asked to submit their questions in writing to the moderator.
  • Prior to the debate, the FBI will conduct background investigations on all participants to affirm appropriate loyalty to The Leader.

  • The candidates shall enter the stage upon a verbal cue from the moderator.
  • The candidates shall proceed to center stage and shake hands.
  • The candidates shall take their postions behind  their podiums.
  • The candidates shall do the hokey-pokey and turn themselves around, because that is what its all about.

  • The Oct 8 debate will be conducted in an audience participation (“town hall”) format.
  • If an audience member attempts to participate in the debate…the moderator shall instruct the audience to refrain from any participation.
  • If any audience member poses a question materially different from the one submitted, the commission shall cut off the microphone, cover his/her head with a bag and administer a shock to the genitals.

  • Each candidate may move about in a pre-designated area.
  • At no time shall either candidate move from their designated area behind their respective podiums.
  • The pre-designated areas of the candidates may not overlap.
  • Allemande left and do-si-do, dixie twirl and away you go.

  • The parties agree that they will not issue any challenges for additional debates.
  • The parties agree that they will not appear at any other debate.
  • The parties agree that they will pretend that these are actually debates.

  • If a candidate exceeds the permitted time for comment, the moderator shall interrupt by stating, “I am sorry, your time is up.”
  • If a candidate exceeds the highest deficit in history, presides over a loss of 2 million jobs, and engages in an elective war that makes the nation less safe, the moderator shall interrupt by stating, “I am sorry, your time is up.”

Still Unreported: The Pay-off in Bush Air Guard Fix

Greg Palast, our man in London, continues to be the zealous over-achiever repeatedly scooping his countrymen in the U.S. In this article he adds new substance to the controversy surrounding Bush’s alledged stint in the Texas national Guard.


A Zeal For Secrecy

Bill Moyers, in a speech before the Society of Professional Journalists, offerred his much-heralded insight into the obsession for secrecy of modern government. Some highlights:

  • President Bush’s chief of staff ordered a review that lead to 6,000 documents being pulled from government Web sites.
  • The Department of Defense banned photos of military caskets being returned to the United States.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney kept his energy task force records secret “to hide the influence of Kenneth Lay, Enron and other energy moguls.”
  • The CIA asks a new question during its standard employer polygraph exam: “Do you have friends in the media?”
  • “There have been more than 1,200 presumably terrorist-related arrests,” Moyers said, “and 750 people deported, and no one outside the government knows their names or how many court docket entries have been erased or never entered.”
  • Secret federal court hearings have been held without any public record of when or where, or who was tried.
  • When the American Civil Liberties Union challenged provisions of the Patriot Act, it was prohibited from telling anyone about it.
  • The Washington Post reported that in recent years, judicial committees acting in secret stripped information nearly 600 times from reports intended to alert the public to conflicts of interest involving federal judges.

“By pillaging and plundering our peace of mind, they hoped to panic us into abandoning those unique freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of the press – that constitute the ability of democracy to self-correct and turn the ship of state before it hits the iceberg.” The greatest moments in the history of the press, Moyers said, “came not when journalists made common cause with the state, but when they stood fearlessly independent of it.”

And what is surely to become a classic quote held in reverence by principled journalists everywhere:

Moyers said, “…what’s important for the journalist is not how close you are to power but how close you are to reality.”

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Ashcroft: 0 for 5,000

David Cole writes for The Nation that the Justice Department’s war on domestic terrorism is pitifully unproductive.

On September 2 a federal judge in Detroit threw out the only jury conviction the Justice Department has obtained on a terrorism charge since 9/11. In October 2001, shortly after the men were initially arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft heralded the case in a national press conference as evidence of the success of his anti-terror campaign.

With the dismissal of these charges, there has not been a single conviction on terrorism in the U.S.


Blogs Take Lead Role In CBS Memo Furor

It was bound to happen. The media is doing such a bad job of investigating, analyzing, and delivering the news, that even Investor’s Business Daily is touting the oft-maligned blogosphere for their journalistic prowess.

In the same way the market sifts and analyzes information stocks far better than any individual investor or institution ever could, the blogosphere weeds out the chaff and develops and hones analysis and facts at, well, Internet speed.

For a medium that has become synonymous with incredulity, this is a big step. It was not long ago (I think, yesterday), that if you told someone you got your facts from the Internet you would be subjected to a heavy sigh and severe rolling of the eyes. Now the same source is being hailed as CBS’ fact checker.

We have to be careful here. Obviously I would like to promote the concept that accurate and insightful information is available in the blog community. But this community is no more accurate today than it was yesterday, and discretion is still the watchword. Now that the value and power of Internet punditry is being recognized, it is important that this recognition is served up to the deserving and not dished out indiscriminately. There are still alot of antennae-heads out there. This is, however, a step in the right direction. The mainstream media has got to watch it’s back. There’s a new sheriff in town.


Cheney – Fear Mongrel

Vice-President Dick Cheney is warning Americans that if they “make the wrong choice” this November it will result in more terrorist attacks. This shockingly transparent attempt at fear-mongering does nothing to advance the campaign dialogue and, in fact, insults all Americans by suggesting that they cannot make a free decision without assuming responsibility for catastrophe if they are wrong. And, of course, there is only one “wrong.”

Cheney is not foreign to making such over-the-top allegations. He is, perhaps, the most strident purveyor of the universally rejected theory that Saddam and bin Laden were collaborators. He also frequently says that…

“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”

This view always prompts me to ask myself just what he means. Is he saying that in September 2001, with the Bush administration in office for 9 months, the terrorists perceived weakness and were, thus, invited to attack?

The sad thing is that, while I may ask myself these questions, no one in the media is asking them of the vice-president or the administration he serves.


Future Unclear For 527 Ads As 60-Day Window Arrives

AdWeek is reporting that the environment for election ads may be altering course.

…due to the 60-day window, all ads must now be financed using “hard” money and be subject to party- and candidate-ad rules, including claiming responsibility for the message in the creative–or face further restrictions.

The 527s have been a persistent peculiarity in recent weeks. Surrogates on both sides of the political spectrum have used them to whack their opponenent. This has not, however, been conducted with moral equivalency on each side. Joshuah Bearman of the LA Weekly writes:

Contrary to the dogma of J[ournalism] schools across the country, there are not always two sides to a story. Balance is often necessary and indispensable, but there are times when the media might have to…mediate a bunch of information and make a judgment. And in those instances, presenting contrasting information as if it’s equally important is, in fact, the false representation…..don’t quote people who are lying just to have “both sides” represented.

However, the attempts by Bush, and to a lesser extent, Kerry, to do away with 527s is a bit disconcerting. There are ever fewer outlets for political speech, particularly speech that eminates from the grassroots. Certainly many of the 527s are not grassroots outfits, but they have the potential to be. The more enlightened approach would be to tinker with the statute so that it promotes citizen participation and disallows the sponsoship of vested interests.