Further Evidence That Television News Is A Joke.

It was recently revealed that, before NBC News selected Chuck Todd to host Meet The Press, it tried to convince Jon Stewart to be the host. Yes, that Jon Stewart…the comedian. The same Jon Stewart who currently hosts The Daily Show.

That speaks volumes about the quality of television journalism today.

Stewart is one of the best interviewers on the planet…unafraid to ask tough questions; unwilling to settle for canned statements; determined to get at the truth. And Stewart isn’t the only example. Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are just as good. Unlike most TV “journalists” who have become lazy and partisan, these TV hosts are seeking the facts about government and politics in addition to laughs. After all, these things are often one in the same.

Like the legendary journalists of yesteryear…Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley…these are people who ask insightful questions; who demand real answers; who continue to press until the interview subject reveals something of consequence. Stewart, Colbert and Oliver are intelligent, informed and curious. They can use humor to draw information from their interview subjects. They are entertaining. More important, they are credible.

In other words, they represent everything that television journalism used to be and should be again.

The Supreme Court is, at least, partly responsible for the decline. Its decisions to equate free speech with money and corporations with people have unleashed a multi-billion dollar bonanza of political advertising for TV networks and broadcast stations. To make matters worse, most of the media are now owned by a few corporations. There are no longer impenetrable firewalls between programming, advertising and the newsrooms. For example, Fox “News” president, Roger Ailes, was a media consultant for Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush. To make certain that his Fox “News” hosts stay on message, he supplies them with a memo of GOP talking points at the beginning of each day.

In order to continue their financial windfall from political advertising, media owners are not inclined to rock the boat. They will not permit their news operations to report on the evils of dark money in politics or the buying of political favors for fear that they will lose their share of the money. And it’s not just television journalism that is failing.

A similar phenomenon has taken place in radio and print. More than 90 percent of the hosts of radio talk shows are right wing hacks who are peddling hate. Newspapers have long delivered a partisan slant to the news (often the newspapers’ leanings are indicated in their mastheads, i.e. The Republic, The Democrat, The Independent, etc.) and news magazines are struggling financially. As a result, some of the best investigative journalism today is being done by freelance reporters and what were formerly entertainment magazines…Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, etc.

It’s ironic that, in the so-called “Information Age,” we are facing a crisis of knowledge.

Out Of The Mouths Of Comedians…

One of the sad facts about today’s media is that the hosts of several satirical “news” comedies are better journalists than the news readers on the so-called news networks. They are often more factual and probe more deeply into stories than many of those who pretend to be journalists. Moreover, they are even willing to take the few minutes needed to check their sources…something that many journalists don’t. That’s why so many news stories are superficial, sensational and hopelessly biased, such as Lara Logan’s infamous 60 Minutes Benghazi fiction.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that comedian John Oliver added some much needed perspective to the GOP claims of widespread in-person voter fraud and to the subject of capital punishment. On his HBO show called Last Week Tonight, Oliver noted that modern DNA testing has proven that approximately 4 percent of those prisoners awaiting execution on death row are innocent. But there were just 4 confirmed cases of in-person voter fraud over the past decade. That computes to something like 0.00000001 percent of all the votes cast!

Yet GOP conservatives have rushed to pass voter ID bills that will impose hardships on many voters, including college students, the elderly and minorities. At the same time, they literally applaud attempts by red state governors to speed up executions by reducing the number of appeals, even when there is reasonable cause to presume innocence.

Such are the values of today’s GOP. The fear of a token number of fraudulent votes trumps the fear of wrongly executing innocent people!

One suspects that conservatives might feel differently if they, or one of their family members, were wrongly convicted and sitting in isolation on death row. And since you are known by the company you keep, one imagines that conservatives might be embarrassed to learn that, when it comes to capital punishment, the US stands alongside Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China. Together these nations conduct the vast majority of the world’s executions. Most of the rest of the world is horrified by our insistence on venegence. Indeed, that’s why the states determined to continue executions are struggling to find the necessary drugs…European pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell them to the US.

One cannot even justify capital punishment based on monetary savings. Despite claims to the contrary, the cumulative cost of court appeals, death row confinement and execution is 10 times more expensive than the cost of imprisoning a convicted murderer for the rest of his or her life. Further, there is a great moral cost for a society that is willing to exact venegence through capital punishment…especially when some of those executed are innocent. A single execution of an innocent person makes everyone who favors government-sanctioned murder a killer. There simply can be no denial of that fact.

Of course, we all might rest a bit easier if we could be certain of each and every verdict. But our justice system has proven to be all too fallible. According to the National Academy of Sciences, there have been 312 DNA exonerations since we have been doing advanced forensic testing. That’s 312 people who went through the horror of being convicted of a crime they didn’t commit; who were subjected to solitary confinement – often for many years – before being proven innocent.

Yet they were the lucky ones!

Those who were executed before modern DNA techniques or, in some cases, despite of them, lost their lives based on a mistake. In the immortal words of the nation’s most prolific executioner and amateur debater, Texas Governor Rick Perry…”Oops!”