On Journalism, Again

CNN recently noted that Jon Stewart might be the next Edward R. Murrow following the comedian's extremely precise dissection of Jim Cramer and the financial branch of the media in general. This is a dark day for journalism.

I ask, why are we relying on a comedian to fill the crucial role Murrow played? This is not to suggest that Stewart is incapable, but that it is ridiculous to think no journalists have the capacity. There is at least one journalist capable of Stewart's feats, as seen at Slacktivist, yet we live in a society where public media outlets cede credibility to networks featuring puppets making crank phone calls.

CNN also ineffectually complained that they exposed Cramer first back in October. I say ineffectually for two reasons. First, nobody noticed. Second, if you go to CNN.com's own website to their topic page "Jim Cramer" there is a single article from October which only mentions him once, in passing. The closest equivalent I could find to a takedown was an article on Chrysler mentioning Cramer's recent prognostication of automotive doomed while briefly criticizing him for the frequency and accuracy of his pronouncements. The article quickly returned to topic.

These points are especially illuminating. The media outlets are perfectly capable of making a story, any story, noticeable and important. We've had much ado about many nothings over the years and CNN's supposed takedown of Cramer could easily have been much ado about something. That it did not receive much notice is indicative of how important CNN itself considered the story, clearly seconded by the fact that you can't even find the story.

The difference in urgency is astounding. Jon Stewart felt this task was so important that he not only brought Jim Cramer onto his show, but went so far overtime with the interview that sections had to be cut from live broadcast. Rather than lose those sections, the full interview was made available to the public on the internet with references to previous episodes on the topic.

The power of the interview itself isn't only in the lack of kid gloves, the explicitness of the hypocrisy encapsulated in video clips of Cramer's own words, or Stewart's sagaciousness. What makes the interview authentic is the clarity of Stewart's goal, not damnation but redemption, not vengeance but reconciliation. It is true that a one sentence summary of Stewart's message would necessarily begin with "You screwed up", but the humble, hopeful admission and conclusion that follows is "and we need you."

That essential quality Stewart displayed in the interview, and his legendary appearance on CNN's own Crossfire, is completely lost upon those involved in CNN's discussion of the confrontation. They recognize neither that he spoke truth to power, nor that he spoke truth to self, but only that something newsworthy occurred and it garnered more attention than their own attempts in the same field.

It is impossible to say without the source itself, but I strongly suspect that CNN's takedown was an overprocessed, empty calorie blurb on the subject, diluted by the typical media outlet aversion to critiquing other media outlets. At best there or four people, none of whom would have been Cramer, might have discussed the hypocrisy or foolishness for five minutes. Were that the case, maybe CNN will take note that talking about someone behind their back is generally only interesting to the people doing the talking.

In any case, as grateful as I am to Jon Stewart for doing the job of CNN/NBC/CBS/FOX etc. for them, I am dismayed at the ill omen this event signifies.

1 comment:

Phyvo said...

As much as I dislike "the media", I don't think that Jon Stewart *can* do their job for them. He's a comedian. He's more of a news critic, not a news man, and his 30 minute entertainment news show can't possibly fill anything near to the same role as the ideal news network.