I think this comment by John Stewart provokes a telling dispute about the way we understand our politics. On Chris Wallace’s program, Stewart made the following claim about the mainstream media:
STEWART: — the bias of the mainstream media — oh, I’m not saying it’s defensible, but the bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict and laziness.
Is Stewart right about the mainstream media?
Stewart made this comment on Chris Wallace’s Fox News program. From the point of view of many Fox News people, Stewart himself is a Liberal and himself has a bias to see things from a left-wing point of view. When he says this about the mainstream media, to the Fox News people, Stewart isn’t being truthful, or he is making excuses.
The Fox News people see mainstream news sources like the New York Times as predominantly if not definitively liberal in their biases about what’s going on. To say that they aren’t liberal, for the Fox people, is to just deny realities.
But, I want to look at what Stewart says and see what he is trying to say. When I look at his remark, I think I would say he’s making a perceptive and true observation about mainstream news organizations. I would say that his remark is true because of what mainstram news is all about. It’s about being a business and trying to not step on the toes of the political leadership of any of the big players in the society at large. So, I can imagine that German newspapers in the 1930’s and 40’s would have been entirely concerned with the same “non-partisan” issues. They would have been concerned about sensationalism, conflict, and laziness. There would have been stories about who was sleeping with who, about movie stars and their career choices, about murders and crime sprees by petty hoodlums, and so forth. There would not have been any useful stories on corruption in government, about the needs of the poor, or about the war efforts by the german government beyond a concern to support the troops.
I imagine there would be no differences between how news organizations in the mainstream would handle the news in Nazi Germany, Britain during the fall of their empire, or the United States during the period when the economy has been exploding and the government has become much more the military empire and security state.
This focus on what many would call trivialities is because papers and tv networks don’t continue providing their product in an environment when political leaders are against them. If a paper exposes a political party or politician for doing something wrong or stupid those so accused will likely try to get payback. It would not be hard to make life for reporters difficult or make it impossible for an effective investigative news organization uncompetitive.
That is, you talk about movie stars when you get punished for trying to report on anything else.
The fact that it is difficult to find out what’s really going on, and not rely on press releases, is why I’m inclined to believe Stewart’s account of the mainstream news.
It also goes to why Stewart’s show is a comedy show who jabs particularly at those in the news. Stewart is making fun of people who say silly things about what’s going on. He doesn’t have a staff of people who are actually trying to find out what’s going on. His is not a news organization in the sense that NBC or even Fox is claiming for themselves.
It’s not as though the Daily show could defend the claims it makes on the air by pointing out it has sources, and has obtained documents, or went through some other investigative process. Stewart tells us his primary interest is not in telling the truth. His primary goal is to be funny. However, he is not just trying to be funny. He thinks what the mainstream news as well as Fox is funny when you compare what they say with what people understand about what’s really going on.
That is, Stewart does presume he can tell people something true about what’s going on as part of his effort to point out how what the mainstream news is silly or funny or ridiculous.
This presumption that he can suggest a true story about reality is part of why many people feel they get a better understanding of reality from John Stewart than from Fox or the mainstream media generally. The truth about what’s going on is revealed as Stewart points out mainstream silliness.
Is Stewart right about the Soup that Fox swims in?
Stewart at other points claimed that Fox people do not allow that there are other than two viewpoints to be taken. You are either a liberal or a conservative. This is why, according to Stewart, Fox people cannot understand someone like Stewart who claims not to be either a conservative or a liberal.
I want to say that Stewart is here talking about the metaphorical accounts of reality that I have been discussing. One believes that life is like one of the metaphors. Say, one insists that our lives are like the lives of kids on playgrounds run by bullies. Our lives are therefore organized by considerations of what to do about the bullies. Some of us, like the liberals, want to organize together and fight off the bullies who would otherwise try to steal our lunch monies. Others, like the conservatives, oppose what the liberals say by pointing out that we are really free when we are unfettered by alliances with others and there therefore isn’t anything wrong with making a living off of valuables that can be taken from others. People who insist that Stewart is a liberal, despite whatever he says about being a comedian, believe that one’s point of view is determined by the metaphor, by our being nothing but kids on these playgrounds.
One reason why Fox people might think that Stewart has to be a liberal, despite what he says otherwise, is because they believe you can either kiss the boots of the powers that be or try to lift your lips up off of them. Since Stewart is criticizing Fox who, they take it, kisses the boots of the powers that be, and defends those who do likewise, then he must be a liberal who, by definition, try to lift their lips and defend or justify those who do likewise.
Stewart is in the position of saying that one can have some other point of view than liberal or conservative.
He has already said that the mainstream media has attempted to stand apart from either of these two points of view. He says that they are not very good at describing what’s going on in the world when they try to do this. Instead of giving us a clear and accurate story about people and events, they instead focus on sensationalism and controversies. And, too, as a way of avoiding hurting anyone’s feelings on either the right or the left, the mainstream news is just lazy. They may go out looking for facts about what’s going on, but they are lazy and don’t put out the effort to be complete or accurate. Instead of talking about how corrupt our leaders are, the news organizations give us stories about the lives of movie stars and the sexual escapades of our politicians.
When Stewart talks about the soup that Fox people swim in and how that soup keeps them from seeing that there is a world different and apart from how Fox people, and the liberals, see things, he assumes that there is a case to be made for why our lives are not like the kid’s lives on the playgrounds. If our lives are not like the lives of these kids, then, presumably, we could understand our lives quite apart from the terms provided by this metaphor. That is, we would not have to think of there being powers-that-be taking advantage of us merely because they can.
However, even though Stewart assumes that we don’t have to look on ourselves as kids on a playground having to deal with bullies, he has not made a case that one can do so. The Fox people, as well as liberals, believe that the only way to understand our lives is in terms of this metaphor, or some other one like it. And so, they cannot go along with Stewart who tells them that you don’t have to. He may say it, but without an argument, he sounds unconvincing to them. He sounds too holier-than-thou and above the fray on political matters.
Stewart assumes that there can be a middle of the road. He thinks there can be a left and a right and so, there must be a middle. But, the Fox people, as well as the liberals believe there is either kissing the boots, or not kissing the boots and lifting your lips up off them. There is no middle ground between these two. Life is like kissing boots not meandering along a street where you can be anywhere between one edge and the other.
When Stewart talks about Fox people swimming in some soup he is claiming, in other words, that life is like meandering along a road. According to Stewart, the Fox people think you have to be on one side or the other, whereas, you could be anywhere on the street you choose to stand. Stewart can claim this about our lives, like he can claim to not be a liberal and one who chooses to stand somewhere other than the edge. But, he has to provide something of an argument to justify what he claims to Fox people and the rest of us.
Why does Stewart think life is not about kissing boot?