For many years, I heard people – intellectuals, media critics, activists – complaining about the “infotainmentization” of news. The news, we were told, was not like the old Murrow/Cronkite days of hard-hitting journalism, but was increasingly becoming an entertainment product – dumbed down, more concerned with stirring emotions than presenting facts, less and less serious and adult. I should point out that most of these critics were on the left, politically – and also that I have long agreed with them.
Ladies and gentlemen, I assert that “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are the living embodiment of everything that these people had complained about for decades, and the perfect reflection of our current state of Idiocracy. I further assert that the fact that these shows lean left politically has indemnified them from the full brunt of criticism to which these critics would otherwise have subjected them, and which they richly deserve.
We now have millions of Americans who get their news and political commentary from the Comedy Network – and who consider themselves knowledgeable and sophisticated for it. Am I really the only one who sees a problem with this? Am I really the only one who thinks that Jon Stewart’s middlebrow know-it-all routine is a shit substitute for actual news or sober, informed, in-depth commentary? Sure, Stewart is a smart guy. So was Mark Russell, and yet if I said that I got my serious news and commentary from him, people would tell me I was a damn fool. But these days, people will look at you as if you’re a mouth-breathing rube for not knowing what Jon Stewart said last night – i.e., for refusing to get your news from a standup comedian on Comedy Central.
To those who claim that it is simply a meaningless comedy show, and I should not take it seriously at all, I say this: If Stewart and Colbert wanted to do a pure comedy that spoofs the news, they could do a 30 minute version of the news segment of Saturday Night Live, or of Jay Leno’s nightly monologue. But that’s not what they do – they talk about serious politics in at least some depth, and with very serious points to be made behind it. And occasional disclaimers in interviews aside, neither of them have done anything serious to discourage people from using their shows as serious news and commentary. Why would they? They wouldn’t want to drive their audience away.
Actual news can be found plenty of places. Al Jazeera streaming is free on the internet. BBC, RTE, CBC, NHK English, and PBS produce multiple daily news podcasts, which are also free. If you go to the CNN International website (as opposed to the US-focused website), you’ll find real news. Smart, well-informed columnists abound on all sides of the political spectrum, from the liberals of Counterpunch to the conservatives of Taki’s Magazine to the libertarians of lewrockwell.com to unclassifiables like Fred Reed. All are better options than getting your news and views from the Comedy channel.
So, everyone, I beg you: Stop going to comedians to get your news and commentary! Or at least, stop doing that and acting like you’re an intellectual for doing so. People who get their news from comedians aren’t well-informed. Why does anyone even have to point that out? It’s like what Orwell said about, in crazy times, it being the increasingly the duty of sane people to point out the obvious.