Tuesday, December 28, 2010

As Close As TV Gets To Journalism

Caption: Jon Stewart talks to disabled firefighters, police officers, and equipment operators about the stalled bill to help 9/11 first responders, on the Dec. 16, 2010 edition of The Daily Show.

Image credit: The Daily Show (see NOTE)

Not long after noting how superficial voters can be, I happened on this article in The New York Times:
Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?

And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?

In ‘Daily Show’ Role on 9/11 Bill, Echoes of Murrow
What the article is referring to is this episode of The Daily Show, which was dedicated entirely to discussing the bill before Congress that was meant to provide additional funds for treating and caring for firefighters, police, and other workers who worked in the vicinity of the World Trade Center either on 9/11 or afterward. These people were trying to rescue people trapped there, and to remove rubble and other dangers so that bodies of the victims could be recovered. It was being blocked by a Republican filibuster, and, as usual, the Democrats were doing nothing to either end-run this maneuver or bring it to the public's attention. That all changed after that Daily Show episode. Suddenly, the television news channels that had utterly ignored the issue for months, including Fox "News", were all over it.

It's sad to have to write this, but Stewart is probably as close as television journalism gets to actually performing a public service these days. That's sad, of course, because he's not a journalist. Whether it's berating a loudmouthed financial "analyst" for his failure to foresee problems with any of the investments he was plugging, explaining how a President who promised to end the government's assault on civil liberties is doing the opposite, or telling a clueless Democratic hack that his act is getting old, Stewart has been reading us the news far more than most of the "real" journalists on television, particularly at the national level.

You really have to ask yourself why.

Television news is famous, one might say infamous, for the sort of "man in the street" interviews Stewart did with the 9/11 veterans two weeks ago. Their standard operating procedure, when some bizarre crime happens in a place such things usually don't happen, is to keep asking people in the vicinity "Aren't you pants-pissingly scared?" until they can find someone dumb enough to say he or she is pants-pissingly scared on camera. Yet it's pretty clear that no television journalists, at any of the broadcast networks or the four "news" channels, were interested in talking to the folks who were suffering thanks to breathing that toxic air while they were trying to excavate the area and look for survivors. This lack of interest is particularly strange here, since there's clearly lots of suffering and emotion involved. Plus, as Stewart demonstrated, there are clearly some who are giving interviews.

The only conclusion that seems logical is that they just didn't want to know. I don't know why that is, but it's hardly the first time that I've been amazed at the lack of curiosity in those quarters. This story, in particular, is easy to cover if you're willing to talk to a few people. Yet, as this article and Stewart both note, no one did.

The superficiality and lack of curiosity in our electorate is certainly reflected in the medium where most of them get their news. I suppose we can only hope that there's some comedian out there who's willing to do a little digging the next time there are people in need.

NOTE: This was a publicity photo, which normally television shows are willing to have reproduced. Its appearance here is not an endorsement by The Daily Show, Comedy Central, or any others responsible for the show, nor did they approve or contribute to the content of this article.

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