Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The most trusted newsman in the US?

Is this the picture of the most trusted man in America?

The New York Times seems to think so.

The article states:
Though this spot is the program’s mocking sendup of itself and the news media’s mania for self-promotion, it inadvertently gets at one very real truth: the emergence of “The Daily Show” as a genuine cultural and political force. When Americans were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “ ‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.”

“The Daily Show” resonates not only because it is wickedly funny but also because its keen sense of the absurd is perfectly attuned to an era in which cognitive dissonance has become a national epidemic. Indeed, Mr. Stewart’s frequent exclamation “Are you insane?!” seems a fitting refrain for a post-M*A*S*H, post-“Catch-22” reality, where the surreal and outrageous have become commonplace — an era kicked off by the wacko 2000 election standoff in Florida, rocked by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and haunted by the fallout of a costly war waged on the premise of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

Following 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, the show focused more closely not just on politics, but also on the machinery of policy making and the White House’s efforts to manage the news media. Mr. Stewart’s comedic gifts — his high-frequency radar for hypocrisy, his talent for excavating ur-narratives from mountains of information, his ability, in Ms. Corn’s words, “to name things that don’t seem to have a name” — proved to be perfect tools for explicating and parsing the foibles of an administration known for its secrecy, ideological certainty and impatience with dissenting viewpoints.

Over time, the show’s deconstructions grew increasingly sophisticated. Its fascination with language, for instance, evolved from chuckles over the president’s verbal gaffes (“Is our children learning?” “Subliminable”) to ferocious exposés of the administration’s Orwellian manipulations: from its efforts to redefine the meaning of the word “torture” to its talk about troop withdrawals from Iraq based on “time horizons” (a strategy, Mr. Stewart noted, “named after something that no matter how long you head towards it, you never quite reach it”).

But I think the main reason why the show resonates is the following:

For all its eviscerations of the administration, “The Daily Show” is animated not by partisanship but by a deep mistrust of all ideology. A sane voice in a noisy red-blue echo chamber, Mr. Stewart displays an impatience with the platitudes of both the right and the left and a disdain for commentators who, as he made clear in a famous 2004 appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire,” parrot party-line talking points and engage in knee-jerk shouting matches.

The end of history (or end of politics, as you prefer) means the end of ideology (at least so has it Fukuyama). Capitalism winning the Cold War not only discredits communism, it means that we all agree on the best way to achieve economic progress and prosperity. The distrust the show exhibits toward political ideologies (like there's a big difference between the dems and republicans* -- more on this below) resonates with viewers situated at the end of history who have no ideology (if we see the world the same way, then is it an ideology? -- after all, ideology was once defined as false consciousness with respect to one's reality).

Also, the show hardly proposes a solution -- an easy way to stay out of trouble. It makes fun of the powers that be (correctly, in most if not all cases, as far as I've seen) without its own agenda (something that could be made fun of or criticized).

Anyone see the movie Man of the Year with Robin Williams as an anchor of a similar news show who wins an election due to a failure in the electronic voting machines? The movie directors already knew what the Times finally decided to print -- a few years ago. The movie cited statistics about the trustworthiness of comedic anchors like Jon Stewart as well as ratings, though I don't know if they were based on any facts or not. Ahhh -- art is still important, even if it's low art.

* Supposedly Republicans stand for small government and are supposed to be fiscal conservatives. Remember the talk about paying down the national debt? We talked about it 8 to 10 years ago at the end of the Clinton presidency (when we weren't talking about Monicagate, that is) and I remember a discussion of whether we should pay it all off or keep some of it -- we don't have those conversations anymore because we're again in deficit spending and the national debt is growing (warning: inflation may be coming back too, and not just because gas prices have shot up, leading to increasing food prices (also in part because of the misguided decision to use corn for fuel... higher costs of corn, leading to higher meat prices since the animals we eat eat corn...)). When Reagan become president in 1981, the national debt had just reached $1 trillion (that's a thousand billion, or a million million (a billion) for visitors from abroad). Now it's over $5 trillion almost thirty years later. The presidents: 8 years of Reagan, 4 years of George HW Bush, 8 years to Clinton, and now 8 years of George W Bush. That's 20 years of republican presidents, during which time the debt has soared, and 8 years of a democrat, during which time the budget was balanced and the debt began to contract.

Let's not forget that the government has expanded during the W years as we're spying on emails and phone calls (authorized or not; it also happened under Clinton from what I understand; not a good development in any case) as we respond to 9/11.

So let's see: we have increased spending and non-involvement of the government except if you're doing drugs or want to have an abortion or if the government has reason to think you support the terrorists. And doesn't Bush say, 'you're either with us or you hate America.' Postideological politics indeed. Let's see if McCain breaks from that for the sake of the republicans.

And here is the rest of it.

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