The ongoing strike by members of the Writer’s Guild against the AMPTP is an important line in the sand for rights of the creative community in Hollywood and elsewhere. The producers have thus far proven that they are far more interested in hording their profits than in sharing credit and compensation with the people most responsible for generating those profits – the creators. But there has been an unanticipated drawback to this otherwise righteous cause that could have a significant impact on our nation.
A month from now the first of the presidential primary contests will take place in Iowa. The campaigns are already at cruising speed and the media is hurtling forward with their usual fare of speculation, conflict and the inane horserace chatter that they think passes for news. What’s missing is the perspective of what has become the most insightful segment of the commentator class in the 21st century – Satire.
While news programs continue spewing their corporatist, insider views of presidential politics throughout the strike, programs like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, etc., have become silent. This is not a trivial matter. Many of these programs have assumed a unique role in our culture by highlighting the absurd quirks and contradictions of our politicians and press. The light these programs shine on the political landscape is nowhere countervailed in the dimwitted din of the so-called Mainstream Media.
Numerous studies have concluded that programs like The Daily Show are much more than comic relief. They have been shown to contain as much news content as the news programs they lampoon. They are a top source of news for young viewers/voters. They are a staple in the media diet for information about our nation and our world. Two years ago I wrote “The Real Fake News” to juxtapose the legitimacy of the Daily Show as compared to the pretenders in the “serious” press:
“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.”
For these reasons they should be allowed to continue in production along with the rest of television news programming. The absence of the perspective of The Daily Show could have a measurable effect on public opinion including the presidential race. In just one month since the strike began, there have been stories and events that would have been covered by TDS in a manner that no other outlet would have the courage to get near. Imagine, for instance, Jon Stewart’s take on Rudy Giuliani’s “Tryst Fund” affair; or the CNN/YouTube Republican debate; or the Hillary campaign office hostage crisis; or Bill O’Reilly’s book tour to Afghanistan; or the WGA strike itself. By approaching the news from angles that the straight press ignores, TDS and its peers bring out issues that would otherwise be missed or would fall from the radar before their ramifications could be fully explored.
I believe that our country is being ill-served by shutting down The Daily Show. But there is something that can be done. Because TDS can be plausibly categorized as a news program, it can be given special status with regard to the strike. The union could grant it a waiver to allow it to remain in production. Or better yet, the union could negotiate with the production company on an individual basis. This has been done in previous labor disputes. The production company can agree to terms with the union that can later be aligned with the terms that are spelled out in the final contract. In fact, by negotiating with individual production companies, the union can place tremendous pressure on the companies that do not negotiate, as well as on the AMPTP. It is a tactic that effectively divides to conquer. How long could the AMPTP hold out while their members are signing contracts independent of the Alliance?
I am calling on the WGA to enter into negotiations with TDS, its producers, and/or Comedy Central. It’s time to restore this national resource to the airwaves. The strike could drag on for many months and the loss to our social psyche is too great to rest on the potential for the warring factions to reach a settlement. The tenor of our times is too tense to leave to the addle-brained punditry of CNN, Fox, et al. What’s coming round the bend of civic life in America needs to be reviewed and regurgitated by the creative minds that gave us Mess O’Potamia and ClusterF@$k To The White House.
Any WGA members reading this are encouraged to contact your union reps and push for this solution. It can’t hurt the union (it might help), but not doing so can hurt the country. So please…stop hurting America.
UPDATE: From some comments I’ve received, it is apparent that I need to clarify my position. I am TOTALLY in support of the writer’s strike and their mission to fairly compensate their members and all creative workers. What I am proposing here would ONLY be implemented if those negotiating individually got the terms that the Guild is now demanding (at the least). The theory is that if the Guild can peel off members of the AMPTP who will agree to the Guild’s terms, then the AMPTP is weakened as their alliance falls apart. This tactic has been used in the past by and for the benefit of the union. Both the WGA and the DGA have used it successfully. Perhaps in today’s marketplace, with increasing consolidation and vertical integration, this tactic may not be as effective, but I think it is worth exploring.
I really do think that the absence of TDS and its peers has a measurably negative impact on public discourse. And these types of programs are the most effective media watchdogs around as they put the media in a critical light that no one else does – at least no one with their reach (I do it, of course, but I think TDS gets more viewers than me).
UPDATE II: The WGA agrees with me!
“So it’s interesting that, today, WGA prez Patric Verrone began calling on the more moderate CEOs to break ranks with AMPTP which he claimed is “allowing bottom-line hard-liners to rule the day.” I’ve heard top WGA’ers privately refer to this as the “Let’s Make A Deal” strategy. But it hasn’t been articulated in public until now. “If any of these companies want to come forward and bargain with us individually, we think we can make a deal,” Verrone told AP while conferring with picketing writers at NBC in Burbank.”