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.

Colbert Exposes Abuses Of The 501(c)4.

Although known for his comedy, Stephen Colbert has shown an aptitude for investigative journalism that surpasses many of the so-called “legitimate” news operations. His reporting on the IRS “scandal” is but the latest example.

Long before traditional news organizations began reporting on the abuses of political PACs and Super PACs, Colbert exposed the inappropriateness of political organizations being awarded 501(c)4 status. Following the lead of Karl Rove, Sarah Palin and hundreds of right wing groups, Colbert formed his own 501(c)4 called the Colbert Super PAC SHH! in 2011. By simply signing a few papers with the help of Republican attorney and former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, Trevor Potter, Colbert legally declared his organization a non-profit and began collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to Potter, he did not have to reveal the names of his donors. He did not have to adhere to spending limits. The only restriction was that he could not directly coordinate his expenditures with any candidates.

Interestingly, he never actually filed a 1024 form to request tax-exempt status from the IRS. (Of course, neither did many other Super PACs.) But now that the IRS is under investigation, Colbert realized that he, along with thousands of Tea Party groups, could file the form with the assurance that the IRS would not dare deny it while the IRS, itself, was under investigation. So Colbert filed the form under the new name Making-America-A-Better-Tea-Party-Patriot-9/12-Place-To-Constitution-America-Tea-Party-Nominally-Social-Welfare-Conservative-Political-Action-Tea-Party-Secret-Money-Liberty-I-Dare-You-To-Deny-This-Application-Of-America-Tea-Party.

Once again, Colbert has exposed the reality of 501(c)4s and the absurdity of our political system.

To be clear, the 501(c)4 designation was never intended to be used by political groups…not even by satirical groups such as Colbert’s. It was intended for use by genuine charities that serve the public interest and need to keep their donors anonymous so that the donors would not be hounded by thousands of other charities seeking funding.

But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed a torrent of political groups claiming non-profit status so that corporations could keep their political donations anonymous. Not long afterward, the Tea Party movement began swamping the already understaffed IRS with thousands of requests for non-profit status. Is it any wonder, then, that the IRS chose to target these groups for extra scrutiny? What public good did the groups serve beyond providing cover for anonymous donors who wanted to use their money to attack political opponents and affect the outcome of elections?

Whether the IRS decision to request more information was politically-motivated is still unclear. But two things are clear: The IRS should scrutinize such groups, denying 501(c)4 status to those groups that are primarily political, like…say…the Tea Party. And Stephen Colbert is a unique talent.