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.