Stewart v. McArdle

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 reportingNot 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.

Yes.  Exactly….

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.

How comforting.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

25 thoughts on “Stewart v. McArdle

  1. Somewhere in my surfing the Net (is that still fashionable to say?) someone compared CNBC to the Weather Channel. In short, if the WC were as accurate as CNBC would anyone watch?

    Seems to me that CNBC is nothing but a rah-rah chamber for Wall Street. (I’m watching Kudlow as I peck away. I am one of those 300,000 that watch CNBC, but because it is a f—ing hoot.)

    My question, could General Electric, NBC afford to create CNBC today? My answer, No.

    Seems to me that is basically Mr. Stewart’s point. Is CNBC doing its job if its job is to provide reliable guidance?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. wow that is some powerful stupid from mcardle. any radio or tv show, except for pbs, exists to sell ads first. there is nothing wrong with that. but stewart is honest about his views and what his show is. which is far more then faux news or cnbc or the washington times and etc, etc. stewart doesn’t have an apparent hidden agenda unlike most of the business press.

    i guess mcardle is unaware of the long tradition of comedians or satirists being political: Swift, lenny bruce, mark twain. and i guess radio or tv talking heads are fine even if they are not journalists, but stll pushing their opinions.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. The WaPo dropes it’s business section. From Reuters,

    “By Robert MacMillan

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Washington Post will stop publishing a business section six days out of the week and move business news to the front section of the paper at a time when finance stories dominate world headlines.

    The decision, which the Post’s editors explained in a memo obtained by Reuters, means that the paper will save money on newsprint when newspaper advertising revenue is plunging.”

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. Fair points Nav, but entertainer in this context is also satirist, and that is simply a form of entertainment that bundles with it a fair dose of opinion and social commentary. It is still most certainly not journalism, though the irony here is that at times it can make so-called “real” journalism look awfully bad…

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. But Erik, all of this is against the background of loads of people getting all giddy over the observation that the Daily Show has become more than mere entertainment; hence Andrew Sullivan going on for hundreds of words about how this is a new era of accountability in the media, James Fallows (on whom see below) claiming that Stewart has “become Edward R. Murrows”, etc. etc. And in defense of this view, the Stewart-Cramer interview certainly wasn’t slapdash; Stewart took off his comic’s hat and got right down to business, and certainly made it seem as if he wanted his criticisms of Wall Street and CNBC’s coverage to be taken as seriously as many people took them. Megan’s point is not that there’s anything wrong with entertainment, but that you don’t get to (1) blatantly make stuff up (which is what she’s claiming Stewart and the DS writers were doing in some of their criticisms of CNBC – I don’t know whether this is accurate, but she says it is and you’re not disputing it) and then (2) claim the “entertainment” defense when people follow your lead in taking your criticisms seriously.

    P.S. For good measure:

    Although, improbably, I share a journalistic background with Cramer*, I thought Stewart, without excessive showboating, did the journalistic sensibility proud.

    Megan’s point is that you don’t get to do the journalistic sensibility proud when your critique largely based on having misrepresented what people said.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. John, you bring up some good points. Here’s what really bothered me though:

    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.

    I guess I simply don’t see Stewart ever “retreating” into the “it’s just comedy” defense…even though it is just comedy. Yes, it’s biting comedy. And yes, he utilizes some rhetorical devices to get his points across, but I have yet to see him say something (at least regarding this attack on CNBC) that was disingenuous or that merits any sort of “retreat” in the first place.

    I may have misspoke a bit when I said that Stewart doesn’t expect to be taken seriously. He does, to the extent anyone utilizing satire does – as much as the South Park boys expect to be taken seriously, I would say.

    And I think the larger point of the Cramer interview was that this is a critique on shoddy reporting, not on Cramer himself, who it’s true is basically an entertainer himself, not a reporter. And to Cramer’s credit, the guy was pretty humble. And I thought as awkward as the interview was, it ended on a nice note.

    So yes, The Daily Show has become more than just entertainment, but we would be wrong to critique it at once as being not journalistic enough and as a place where people would be foolish to get their news. In the end it’s still a satire show, a fake news show, and if people are silly enough to trust it as their golden source for news, more woe to them. Stewart may have a following, but he’s built that on being sincere and funny, not on being a journalist….

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. The pinnacle of the evolutionary development of intelligence is humorous self-deprecation (imho). Conservatives seem to have very little of this. Perhaps a “sense of humor” is negatively correlated with religiousity, like IQ and g.
    Am I therefore correct in styling the GOP the crypto-neanderthal party?
    Failure to evolve.
    ;)

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. … I have yet to see him say something (at least regarding this attack on CNBC) that was disingenuous or that merits any sort of “retreat” in the first place.

    But Megan’s point is just that grabbing quotations completely out of context to make it look as if CNBC’s anchors and analysts were consistently making horrible advice (again, I can’t speak to whether this charge is accurate or not, but you’re not disputing it here) did constitute the relevant sort of disingenuity. And while it’s true that Stewart himself hasn’t gone to the “It’s just comedy” defense in response to such charges, I have little doubt that that’s what he would say if faced with criticisms like Megan’s; more to the point, though, that’s what you’re saying in his defense, and so the crucial question is whether such a defense is an appropriate one in this context. Megan hasn’t missed the point; quite to the contrary, I think you’ve missed hers.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  9. Hmmm. I don’t know. Megan seems to be attacking Stewart on two fronts: 1) that he has taken clips and quotes out of context and that this presents a disingenuous critique of CNBC; and 2) that Stewart and his defenders are “hiding” behind his stated purpose as an entertainer/comedian.

    So, to the first point, I’d say that even if TDS used clips and quotes out of context, they were nevertheless making a larger point that the media in general and CNBC in particular were not doing very responsible journalism. The point I’m making is that Stewart is not going to make an “in-depth” critique of this in his twenty minute broadcast simply because that’s not what the show does. Ever. So whether it’s disingenous or whether it is simply a question of style is, I suppose, at the heart of this critique. I’d say to Megan that this is standard, boiler plate Daily Show. There’s nothing disingenuous about it. It’s how they always present their critique, which is really just a form of satire. What is Megan expecting? Which brings us to point #2.

    The “comedian defense” is really an unfair critique to begin with. What other defense (and is a defense even needed on this question?) could possibly apply? Stewart is not pretending to be something he isn’t. He isn’t pretending to provide his audience with news in the same way that CNBC most certainly is providing their audience with financial reporting and advice. Yes, Cramer is also an entertainer, but he is actually giving advice to his audience about how to invest their money. That’s a far cry from a self-professed fake news show lampooning politicians and news organizations. The expectations are entirely different. So in what other manner should Stewart be defended than by saying “well, he’s a comedian and a satirist and he’s only got 20 minutes at a time to make his point.” That’s only a third of the time 60 Minutes gets and I’d say that even an hour is a bit short for “in-depth” anything.

    So maybe I have missed Megan’s point, though I prefer to think that her point to begin with is totally missing the larger point which is that we need to view each of these shows and pundits in context. If we take the Daily Show too seriously that’s hardly Stewart’s fault. We can’t on the one hand say they’re being dishonest journalists and on the other criticize people for using them as a news source. It’s not and never will be a legitimate source of news, but that doesn’t disqualify it as a good source of satire and social commentary.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  10. Okay, so it may be that McArdle’s view of this is unduly colored by the fact that two of her co-bloggers have been among Stewart’s biggest (and most serious-taking) cheerleaders.

    But it seems to me that the crucial part of her argument comes in this early paragraph, which I don’t think you quoted:

    … the Jon Stewart video that touched this off was clearly misleading. I do watch these channels, not for the interview but for the tickers and the breaking financial news. And it was obvious from the clips that half of them were anchors and reporters simply quoting someone else–it’s the equivalent of dinging someone for using a racial epithet in the context of discussing racial epithets.

    If this is true, then at the very least all those people – and it’s certainly not just Sullivan and Fallows – who’ve been going around and whooping about how CNBC got pwn3d ought to take a moment’s pause and reevaluate what they’re saying. Maybe it’s true, though, that the charge that Stewart is “making powerful statements, and then when he gets called on him [sic], retreating into the claim that well, you can’t really expect him to act as if he were being taken seriously” isn’t fair in this particular context – the idea would be that it’s really his supporters who are playing this game, taking his claims more seriously than they deserve and then playing the comedy card in the face of criticisms.

    But Megan also says this:

    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.

    The deeper point, in other words, is also that Stewart could really be doing the sort of genuine public service that his supporters attribute to him; financial cable news is a load of crap, and so having somebody with a platform like Stewart’s taking an axe to it is a great thing. The problem is that he can’t do this effectively if he insists on being misleading along the way: not that it’s impossible to be both an entertainer and a serious analyst, but that if you’re going to wear both hats – and again, are you really going to argue that Stewart isn’t trying to do this? – you need to be an entertainer with journalistic standards: trashing CNBC is like shooting fish in a barrel, so why should it require making stuff up?

    Hence you write:

    So, to the first point, I’d say that even if TDS used clips and quotes out of context, they were nevertheless making a larger point that the media in general and CNBC in particular were not doing very responsible journalism.

    Again, though, Megan’s point is that the way to do this isn’t by doing irresponsible journalism of your own, and indeed that framing his critique in the way he did ultimately made Stewart less effective. Does that mean that he had to go “in depth”? Of course not; nobody would watch him if he did. If you want to make a substantive point, though, better to do it in the most honest way possible – and this holds several times over, of course, if the substantive point you’re trying to make has to do with the importance of careful and honest journalism.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  11. I’ll grant you that, John. I guess the question for me now becomes, was Stewart actually using quotes and clips out of context? I see where this sort of thing is gimmicky but whether those quotes were really “out of context” is certainly not proven anywhere in Megan’s post. It’s not apparent to me at all that anything said or shown was really anything more than a sampling. In any case, off to your post….

      Quote  Link

    Report

  12. McArdle is off base. Stewart’s first bit wasn’t an attack on Cramer per se–he was annoyed that Santelli didn’t show and see he went after CNBC. Was it unfair? Of course it was, but it was also funny. If CNBC had just shut the hell up, the whole thing would have been over. But seeing a chance to jack his ratings, Cramer goes on the morning shows and takes shots at Stewart. So Stewart shoots back. At this point, it’s still entertainment–except that Stewart is a lot funnier. But when Cramer goes on the show, Stewart does exactly what McArdle or any other mainstream media type won’t do–he takes on Cramer on the merits. There were no out of context clips; no juxtapositions of contradictory statements. Stewart called him out and Cramer couldn’t defend himself. If Cramer wants to keep his act, great. But it’s not journalism, financial or otherwise–it’s all showmanship.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  13. Megan is a conservative and she is exhibiting a common conservative failing….the idea that some things or some people should not be mocked, eg God, Sarah Palin, Bush, the econopalypse, religious belief, etc. etc.
    In defense of mockery, I offer the purity of the First Law of South Park–

    Either it is all ok to make fun of, or none of it is.
    –Kyle

      Quote  Link

    Report

  14. Matako, your failing is your incessant need to simplify and label everything. A lack of nuance is no virtue. A need to box everything into perfect little categories does everything you speak of a disservice. Funny you should use Southpark in your example, a rather conservative/libertarian show – that suffers not one tiny bit from a lack of mockery. Hmmm…

      Quote  Link

    Report

  15. Matako asserts, “Megan is a conservative and she is exhibiting a common conservative failing….the idea that some things or some people should not be mocked….” John, without a shred of “nuance,” declares “FAIL.” E.D. ignores John’s “lack of nuance” but informs Matako, “A lack of nuance is no virtue.”

    I’m not really sure what point John sees as failure but I’m going to agree with the “Megan is a conservative….” portion of the statement. McCardle’s libertarian economic views, her distaste of government, the bashing of Paul Krugman’s views, are clearly right of center, IMHO, way right to me. So with an excess of nuance I see no problem with Matako’s point of view. By my lights McCardle is conservative, we are on a continuum here after all. I guess it all depends on where the “center” is placed.

    Once upon a time someone named Freddie responded to one of McCardles attacks on Krugman by writing, “As far as Bush-bashing goes, well, I suppose Krugman would say (and his supporters say) that he’s just been forced to speak by the incredibly awful presidency of George W. I do understand that Bush-bashing can get a little boring, but it’s hard to imagine objective criteria by which this administration has NOT failed. When you’ve got that much fuel, you might as well start a fire.” Posted by Freddie | September 5, 2007 2:35 PM

    And E.D., remember Shakespeare’s admonition, “…brevity is the soul of wit….”

      Quote  Link

    Report

  16. Bob: Megan McArdle is a libertarian, not a conservative. If you can’t see the difference (here’s a hint: there’s more than one dimension on which one can be or not be “right of center”), this isn’t a conversation you need to be having.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *