Jon Stewart was on Fox Sunday, boring viewers by lecturing Chris Wallace on Fox’s bias and media sloppiness.
Stewart has done this a few times now, most famously on CNN’s Crossfire years ago. The schtick is that “the bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict and laziness” In other words, that while Fox is certainly right-leaning, the real problem in news media is that they all feed off the conflict.
First, so what if Fox is a partisan right-wing news outlet? Is there a law against that? If you don’t agree with what they are saying, then you shouldn’t be watching it, so what do you care if it’s partisan? And when you ask a critic of Fox this question , the answer comes back in the form of “Because the people who do watch it aren’t getting the truth.” In other words, what they consider to be the truth. But there is not “truth.” There is only the perception of it.
The truth is that all media coverage is biased. CNN, ABC, MSNBC. All of them. The bias in inherent in the humans who report on the story. It’s impossible to report a story without bias. Bias is what motivates reporters to ask certain questions, but it is also the psychological and ideological framework that prevents reports from conceiving of other questions they don’t ask. The question is not is Fox too biased, the question is why don’t other networks make their biases as obvious, so we can choose which bias we want coloring our news.
And this is really the only thing Fix does that is different than CNN or MSNBC–making their bias obvious. This is what you will get from us. If you don’t like it, change the channel. People forget that Fox was created in the 1990s to respond to the left-wing bias that many viewers perceived in all of the other networks. News Corp. saw that there was a huge market of news viewers dissatisfied with the current choices and chose to satisfy that demand in the market. The “Fair and Balanced” doesn’t refer to the coverage on Fox, it refers to Fox’s coverage relative to everyone else, which they and their viewers believe skews left. Fox on the right balances the rest of them on the left (so the story goes). And similarly, it is in response to the perceived center-right bias of Fox, talk radio, and CNN that MSNBC has chosen to run overtly left.
And Jon Stewart is successful for the same reason. He gives people what they want. He claims that “I’m given credibility in this world because of the disappointment that the public has in what the news media does,” he asserted, but that isn’t really true. Stewart sells a product just like Fox and MSNBC do. If Stewart was popular because of our disappointment with the rest of news media, that would suggest that Stewart is delivering the news better, straighter, and free of the conflict and sensationalism he criticizes.
But that isn’t even close to what Stewart sells. The people who watch The Daily Show don’t just want comedy, they want news as comedy. They want everything happening in the world to be cast a joke, and he does it for them. How do I know that’s what they want? Because that’s what the show is and it is successful. Fox delivers the news with a right wing slant, Stewart delivers it with a cynical, sarcastic slant. Cynicism is as much an ideological positions as conservatism or progressivism. You watch the Daily Show and you are shown a world in which nothing is ever serious, because in your mind, you don’t really see this stuff as being that serious. Everything is fodder for the Daily Show, which means that nothing is so serious that it isn’t at least a little bit funny. And if nothing is that serious, so what if Fox sensationalizes it? They can’t sensationalize it, but you can make jokes about it?
But Stewart isn’t telling you the full story. He works for Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. Guess how many news networks are owned by Viacom?
Zero. Viacom, the company that owns BET and MTV, has chosen not to operate any news channels. As of 2006, Viacom no longer owns CBS. The only fact-based reporting you are going to get from Viacom is the Daily Show and MTV Cribs.
And that’s why the Daily Show is allowed to exist. It is basically a half-hour a night of trashing competitor’s products. Maybe they deserve it, may be they don’t. If Viacom ran a news channel, then Stewart wouldn’t be allowed to do what he does, because that would mean, in all fairness, trashing his employer’s product as much as the competitor’s.
If Stewart’s criticism is the lack of honest, in-depth, serious reporting, maybe instead of going on Fox to trash their successful product, he should take it to his boss upstairs.