Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stewart interviews Feith: More of this, please

Last week the AP ran a story about a study by a journalism think tank (No! Don't go for the easy jokes here, people! You'll hate yourself later!) comparing "The Daily Show" with the talking-head shows elsewhere on the cable dial:

The Project for Excellence in Journalism also said it was surprised at how much the Comedy Central late-night program resembles "The O'Reilly Factor," "Hardball" and other cable news shows in content.

Well, if the study considers any of those three programs "news shows," there's already a problem. But let's continue:

The Washington-based organization asked its researchers to study a year's worth of "The Daily Show" tapes — hardly a grim assignment — after hearing the frequent claim that many young people learn about the world from Stewart instead of more traditional news sources.

For more about this "frequent claim" (makes it sound like celebrity gossip, doesn't it?) see here. Back to the AP story:

Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director, said he doubts this is the case. He considers "The Daily Show" more of a political satire in the tradition of newspapermen like Art Buchwald, H.L. Mencken and Russell Baker.

"They're not making jokes about Dan Quayle is dumb or Gerald Ford is clumsy," he said. "They're not making jokes that you could get if you live in the country but don't read the news ... . You can't get the jokes if you're not watching the news. The jokes are designed to make you think more about the news."

A Comedy Central representative had no immediate comment on the study. Stewart has consistently ridiculed the idea that he's somehow a newsman, saying he's just a comic.

Chicken or egg: Do "Daily Show" viewers come to learn more about current events, or does the fact that they pay attention to current events make them more likely to watch and enjoy a show that caters to--or perhaps even flatters--their interest?

Of course Stewart insists he's no newsman, in part because if he were ever accidentally to become one it would mean an immediate drop in his power to influence.

But he's no mere comic, either; he's a satirist. That puts some special claims upon him, regarding both knowledge and ethics. Stewart may touch on the same topics as O'Reilly and Matthews, but the resemblance stops there.

I think the important question isn't, "Why are informed people paying attention to a good satirist?" That's pretty clear. The important question is, "Why do we have to wait for a satirist to do the work that news reporters should be doing?"

As a case in point: Why do we have to wait for last night's appearance on The Daily Show by former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, currently making the rounds promoting his blame-shifting book War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, to hear him actually asked hard questions?

Here are both parts of the extended interview:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Feith's expression at the end of the interview seems to be a combination of shock at being asked such presumptuous questions, plus mystification that it was done so politely.

[Want to share/recommend this post to others? Click the Digg button below.]

No comments: