I have no doubt whatsoever that I won’t be the only one to link to this today – in fact, since I watched this last night on TiVo right before I went to bed, and I’m on east coast time, I suspect there are probably already hundreds, if not thousands of blog entries on it so far.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t send a shout-out to Rachel Maddow for doing a job very few people apparently want to do anymore; actual journalism. Watch as she absolutely refuses to “go to break” or “leave it there” when things get tense with Tim Phillips of the astroturf front group Americans for Prosperity:
Yep, that’s right, two segments. Why? Because she wasn’t done with it by the time it came to go to their contractually-mandated commercial break. She actually says, right at the end of the second segment: “I’ve just cancelled our next segment, would you be able to stick around and continue talking?” Amazing – when was the last time, short of something like 9/11 (or the abduction of a white girl in Aruba, LOL) that you heard a national cable news host ad-lib a program change during the program?
Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us), Phillips agreed to stick around. And Rachel absolutely nails him to the floor: “You are genial, but not credible,” and the show-stopper, “I personally think that you and the folks who do what you do are parasites who feed on America’s fears.”
Yet she does all of this without ever once blowing up or losing her cool – even though Phillips, at the end, tries to go down the “boy, you’re pretty upset tonight, aren’t you?” route. She admits it right away, saying “I’m upset because I think what you do is really bad for the country,” but without getting in Phillips’ face or speaking in a nasty tone – her voice doesn’t even raise in pitch or volume. Just awesome.
And it’s made even more amazing if you happened to see Jon Stewart’s devastating takedown of CNN a couple of nights ago. Stewart’s a comedian, of course, but he’s also provided some of the sharpest political criticism of media coverage of important issues in recent years (that, in itself, is rather depressing: that it takes a comedian to point out this stuff). It was Stewart’s final crushing (and wholly unexpected) blow that brought the show “Crossfire” to its knees, and ultimately was the last straw that reulted in it being taken off the air. And in this segment, he’s no more merciful with CNN in general.
Stewart cobbles together what must have been twenty or more clips of various anchors and on-air personalities saying things like “we’ll have to leave it there,” just after some right-wing tool had injected something totally false and/or inflammatory into the debate. That’s the modern news media’s Catch-22-like problem – they’ve now got (as Stewart notes) twenty-four hours a day to fill with news…yet seemingly never enough time to do any real digging into whether the BS they’re being fed by paid political operatives (or elected officials) is actually, you know….TRUE.
Journalism isn’t simply a matter of finding the “other side” of any story, and giving that “side” as much air-time and credibility as the first “side,” it’s supposed to be about figuring out what the facts are, as much as possible. News people have never been expected to be experts on every subject – that’s why they interview people who are experts – but they ARE supposed to look out for the interests of their viewers, especially when it comes to two things: choosing carefully for them the things which are actually news (i.e., which stand the greatest chance of affecting those viewers/readers), and making sure things which aren’t correct or accurate aren’t allowed to stand as “just another viewpoint.”
If a CNN anchor said “the earth, round or flat? Opinions differ…” (s)he’d be roundly mocked – and probably fired, and rightly so. Yet that is what such people regularly do, albeit in far less obvious ways, virtually every day. There are almost always two sides to every question (against pedophilia? NAMBLA isn’t)…but that doesn’t mean they’re equal, or equally supported, or equally correct. And it’s the job of the news media, who spend every day getting paid to investigate and report on this stuff, to separate fact from fiction and spin. Yet, time and again, they abdicate that responsibility, passing it along to their viewership under the guise of “we report, you decide.” Gee, thanks, guys – tell us something we don’t know. We’re well aware that we have a responsibility ultimately to decide for ourselves what to believe, what to think, about the stories of the day. But you’ve increasingly left the job of even researching it up to us, too. You just show up with a camera and a microphone, get a few quotes (making sure they’re from “all sides,” no matter how loony or intentionally deceptive, and then call it a day and leave everything else up to your viewers. That isn’t objectivity, it’s abdication of responsibility. Remaining objective isn’t incompatible with calling bullshit on something that is, well, bullshit. In fact, objectivity actually requires that you call bullshit if you know something is bullshit. And if you don’t know – but you’ve got two diametrically opposed ideas being proffered from two interested parties, like you do with the health care debate – then that’s when you roll up your sleeves and do some investigative work of your own. You’re not expected to come up with the ultimate “right answer,” but it’d sure help your viewership if you could at least say “we checked into this claim, and found that it’s not correct because….” THEN, people can “decide” who’s mostly telling the truth, and who’s just pushing an agenda.
And although Rachel Maddow is obviously a liberal opinion-show host, she does what so very few media figures today do – she tries to give her viewers a deeper and more-accurate view of something in the news which had previously gone mostly unexamined, instead of just “leaving it there,” as Jon Stewart lampooned CNN for.