Yesterday, I wrote about how Fox News admitted that Tucker Carlson is not to be taken seriously and, within that piece, touched upon how Carlson blurs the lines between journalism and political theater. I also pointed out how Jon Stewart accused Carlson of that exact thing back in 2006 during his public evisceration of Carlson on CNN's Crossfire. You can relive that glorious moment below:
But there's a giant elephant in the room that I want to talk about and that I only briefly alluded to yesterday, and I'm not just talking about the life-sized GOP elephant plush doll that Carlson kisses in between commercial breaks. I'm talking about how Stewart's criticism, that media pundits on major news networks have blurred the lines between journalism and entertainment, could also be thrown right back at him (and us). In fact, Carlson's rebuttal was essentially, "Yeah, maybe I'm not practicing proper journalistic ethics, but neither are you. See, we're the same." There's also a few days ago when The New York Times Magazine published an interview with Stewart where they basically opened with the same premise:
"For all the value Jon Stewart delivered as a political satirist and voice of reason during his 16-year-run as the host of 'The Daily Show,' it's quite plausible to suggest that the political and media Bizarro World in which we live - where skepticism is the default, news is often indistinguishable from entertainment and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country's political leaders - is one that he and his show helped to usher in."
Yes, Jon Stewart had a TV show where he commented on the news, and Tucker Carlson has a TV show where he also comments on the news. But, Tucker Carlson (and Rachel Maddow for all you fuckers crying about political balance [because you're still missing the point]) and Jon Stewart are not the same. Jon Stewart did not cause the denigration of news into theater. If anything, he was the antidote. Here's why:
Jon Stewart Is Not A Journalist Nor Is He Pretending To Be One
Let's go back to the Crossfire episode. Tucker Carlson hears Jon Stewart's criticism and counters by asking him why he was so easy on John Kerry during his interview on The Daily Show. A good journalist would hold the presumptive Democratic nominee's feet to the fire by asking him tough questions. I'll timestamp the video to when this happens:
Jon Stewart tries to explain to Tucker Carlson why it's a false equivalency. "You're on CNN. The show that's leading into me is puppets making crank phone calls," but Carlson doesn't seem to get it, possibly because the bowtie around his neck is so tight that it's cutting off the blood flow to his brain, or possibly just because he already knows it's a false equivalency and is acting in bad faith.
You see, Jon Stewart is a comedian first, second, and third, and maybe fourth, he's a guy who likes talking about politics. He is not a journalist. He is upfront about this time and time again. Taking Jon Stewart to task for not grilling John Kerry is like criticizing South Park for depicting Mickey Mouse as the actual head of Disney.
It could be argued that Carlson is also not a journalist. (Although by appearing as a figurehead on major News Network and being referred to as a journalist, he is essentially assuming the role.) But in reality, he's a political pundit, and perhaps that's why he's frustrated that Stewart is holding him to any standards at all. Like, he's just giving his opinion, man. But that also brings me to my next point.
Comedians And Political Pundits Are Not The Same
Do you want to know the difference between a political comedian and a political pundit? It has nothing to do with how many jokes they tell or if you agree with their opinions. They could literally both say the exact same thing. The difference is just the label, but the label is huge for what it connotes.
A political pundit is expected to be taken seriously.
"But I don't take any of those shmucks seriously," you're probably saying. Well, that's exactly Jon Stewart's point. There was once an intrinsic understanding within the public that if you're talking about politics on a major news network that you were an expert or had an enlightened point of view. You were taken seriously by virtue of your label. But folks like Carlson have deteriorated that expectation (for some), by continually making arguments in bad faith and spewing bullshit. Your two options after watching bad punditry are to either lose faith in the news organizations promoting these people completely or to buy into the bullshit completely. You either become hyper-partisan or dis-illusioned.
A comedian, however, is not expected to be taken seriously.
Dave Chappelle once said, "it is a comedian's job to speak recklessly." As a comedian, my words are to be taken with a grain of salt. They have to be. Otherwise, I can no longer function in my role as a comedian. The tradeoff for speaking without consequence is the lack of authority and vice versa.
It's why I'm never going to give a shit when you say "Dan Duddy showers with his brother Don Duddy" in the comments section of a Cracked article. But if Tucker Carlson, said it on "Fair and Balanced" Fox News, then yeah, there's going to be a lawsuit. (My brother's name is Dean.) But why would Tucker Carlson even do that? This brings me to my final point:
The Timeline Is Backwards
There's a misunderstanding here about cause and effect which Carlson and The New York Times Magazine seem to keep making. When the magazine asked Stewart what role The Daily Show played in the transformation from news to news as entertainment, Stewart said this:
"I think you have to look at what incentivized the system. The news didn't become ''The Daily Show,'' because at its core, ''The Daily Show'' was a critique of the news and a critique of those systems. If they'd taken in what we were saying, they wouldn't be doing what they're doing now: creating urgency through conflict. Conflict has become the catalyst for the economic model. The entire system functions that way now. We are two sides - in a country of 350 million people."
The Daily Show isn't the news turning into entertainment; it's a response to the news turning into entertainment. But you can see why people get this backward. The public no longer trusted the media, and with nowhere else to turn, began to trust the comedians who criticized the media. The two became entangled, and suddenly, Jon Stewart is being heralded as the most trusted man in America like he's Walter Kronkite, despite not being a journalist. Again, it makes sense why this happened, as the one common unifier between good comedy and good journalism is truth. Except this is bad because the type of "truth" a comedian tells is much different than the type of truth you're supposed to get from the news.
Truth in comedy is a feeling. James Woods isn't as much the psychopath they portray him to be in Family Guy, but it's funny because you kind of always knew there were a few screws loose.
Truth in journalism, however, is reporting literal facts. To suggest Jon Stewart is the reason we're in the mess we're in, is to not understand this mess in the first place.
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Top Image: Comedy Central, Fox News