Megan McArdle completely misses the point of “fake news”, or at least she’s missed the point of the Daily Show, which along with the fake punditry of Stephen Colbert is just about the best fake news out there. Read this passage from her critique of Jon Stewart’s interview with Jim Cramer and just replace any reference to Stewart or the Daily Show with “The Onion” to see how absurd this is:
Jon Stewart also shapes peoples’ decisions. Video is a medium with powerful claims to reality–people tend to think that if they saw it, it must be true. This makes it uniquely good at manipulating its audience with skillful editing. I’m very sympathetic to Stewart’s deep critique of financial shows, but I don’t think the way to go about it was to string together a bunch of very misleading clips. Nor to imply that Santelli, who has been vocally against all bailouts from the beginning, was merely frothing on the forclosure program because ordinary taxpayers were finally getting a taste of federal largesse. But Stewart carefully claims he’s just an entertainer, so he has no obligation to hew to journalistic standards on things like quoting out of context.
Deep critique? “Satire” is more like it. Stewart doesn’t do deep critiques. That’s why he uses cheap shots and lots of video editing. He’s making a satirical point in a twenty minute tv spot on a late night cable comedy channel. He doesn’t have time for deep critiques. When you want to make a point, and you want to be funny, you don’t have much you can accomplish in the way of depth. Poignancy must be done via wit, not “deep critique.”
This last line from Megan’s post is baffling. Maybe somebody could help explain it to me:
Financial journalism isn’t, as Stewart argues to Cramer over and over, entertainment. So how come Stewart acted as if it was?
I just fail utterly to see what she means by this. Stewart used his pedestal as an entertainer and social critic – not journalist mind you – to take a swing at financial reporting and the lack of integrity of financial journalists, anchors, and the shows in general. He was making a very specific point: these shows should be reporting. Not entertaining. The Daily Show exists to entertain. It doesn’t report because it is fake news. Any reporting it does is by its very nature, fake. It does do satire, which is really the entire point of fake news to begin with. And satire is entertainment, sure, but it’s also a very effective critical medium.
So maybe someone can help me see where Megan is coming from when she writes:
Ultimately, I find Stewart disturbing because in some sense he’s doing exactly what Cramer is–making powerful statements, and then when he gets called on him, retreating into the claim that well, you can’t really expect him to act as if he were being taken seriously.
Remember, just replace “Stewart” with “The Onion” to get a feel for how really, deeply silly this critique of the Daily Show and Jon Stewart actually is. Sure, Stewart is making “powerful statements” but he’s doing so not from a position of authority or even from a position of expertise as most of the CNBC pundits and reporters are; rather, he’s upfront and honest from the get-go that what he’s doing is satire. And I just don’t see him “retreating into the claim that well, you can’t really expect him to act as if he were being taken seriously.” He doesn’t ever truly expect to be taken seriously. Stewart’s going after laughs and he’s going after a bit of outrage, but I have yet to see him take advantage of people by playing the expertise card and then somehow “retreating” into the role of comedian later.
Give me a break. It’s fake news people. The tragedy – as so many people have pointed out already – is that it’s often so much more critical and necessary than much of what passes for real news these days.
And Now for Something Completely Different
Here’s the entire interview for those of you who want care to actually watch the subject in question.
In related news both Larison and John Cole have lots to say about this little piece of hackery from James Pethokoukis, whose critique of Stewart makes McArdle’s look sagely by comparison. (this is likely because whereas McArdle is intellectually honest Pethokoukis is, you know, a hack…) Writes Cole:
I know it isn’t polite to say these sorts of things in the cyber village, but I have yet to see Pethokoukis write anything about politics that would suggest his IQ on that subject is higher than room temperature in Wasilla in the winter.
One more thing, Brian Beutler is on the same page as me, I think, writing:
I think Megan McArdle’s pox-on-both-houses take on Stewart’s evisceration of Jim Cramer is pretty unfair. Nobody has to like Jon Stewart, or what he does. But we should be clear about what he does and doesn’t do. What he doesn’t do–at times like this when he largely drops the shtick and holds someone’s feet to the fire–is mislead people….CNBC pretends to be a news network, but it fails in its task because it puts soothsayers and stenographers and corrupt insiders on the air, and that’s the point Stewart’s always made. Jim Cramer’s taking the fall because he happens to be the network’s biggest star.
And finally, because every post should have some word of wisdom, I will borrow these from Will Wilkinson:
And here’s something I’d like John Stewart to grasp. In some important sense, Timothy Geithner faces the same assymetrical information quandry Cramer did. The government is so incredibly dependent on Wall Street for much of the information it needs that it is almost inconceivable that the government (and thus the taxpayers) is not being gamed.