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“Wanted; Less Terrible Political Coverage On TV”: An Increasingly Tiresome Model Of Political And Current Events Coverage

Jon Stewart is nothing if not America’s foremost cable news critic. On Sunday, he couldn’t help telling CNN what he thinks of them—and he did it on their network. “I want more of good CNN,” Stewart said. “CNN is very similar to the doll Chucky. Sometimes it’s good Chucky, but you really got to watch out for bad Chucky.”

It’s not just CNN. Much of what passes for political coverage these days is (to borrow a phrase) “bad Chucky.” What Stewart admires are the “brave correspondents” who cover things like the Arab Spring. What he doesn’t like, though—the breathless and feigned “BREAKING NEWS” time fillers and pearl clutching—is what cable news relies on the majority of the time spent between revolutions and natural disasters. It’s an increasingly tiresome model of political and current events coverage.

Aside from Fox News (as evidenced by the ratings), MSNBC’s Morning Joe (as evidenced by its status as a tastemaker), and comedy shows like the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and HBO’s Real Time (by virtue of their place in the cultural zeitgeist), politics on TV doesn’t seem to be as good anymore. Maybe it’s just me. Then again, cable news ratings are down more or less across the board, and Americans find much of the media untrustworthy.

There are other exceptions, no doubt. But whether it’s cable news or the Sunday morning talk shows, something just doesn’t seem right. One gets the sense that they’re flailing, that the world has changed, but they haven’t. That they’re trying to figure out how to make it work, but so far it’s not coming together.

And I think it’s worth noting that among the shows that I believe to be “working” include several examples that are, ostensibly, comedy. And that makes me wonder if maybe the networks and shows might not want to look to them for guidance? And, of course, they already are: Jon Stewart was seriously considered as host for Meet The Press, a move that would have either changed the whole damn paradigm—or failed spectacularly. But the larger question lingers: Why do these shows work, while much of what passes for straight political commentary and analysis (not to be confused with straight news) seem so stale?

A theory: As our political system—not to mention our coverage of it—becomes more absurd, there’s a natural yearning to point out that absurdity in a way a show like Meet the Press is not equipped to handle. MTP and shows like it are all about how serious this is. These are senators, don’t ya know—statesmen. It’s like the whole format is left over from the Washington that existed in an Allen Drury novel, a time before the message was controlled and you rose in the ranks on your ability to avoid gaffes and raise cash.

Our politics—our culture at large, really—now disincentivizes loose informality when it comes to political coverage. It’s really quite schizophrenic: we urge you to be loose and fun and interesting, but we’ll crucify you if you trip up. It’s all absurd, yes, but don’t take it lightly! seems to be the mantra, and there’s a million tripwires to look out for if you’re a senator talking on a set. So we settle on this arrangement that has this sort of bloodless/uber-serious political coverage on the one hand, and Jon Stewart absurdity on the other. A politician or pundit screws up on one, and is made fun of on the other.

But there’s a missing middle ground here—a warm wit, a little mischievous but not cynical—that Sunday shows kind of miss now.

I’m not advocating that we dumb down political analysis and chase the lowest common denominator. Quite the opposite. The irony is that shows that are meant to be funny are often also the smarter shows. There is a long tradition of Swiftian satire, and in this regard, the comedy shows are selling themselves short when they cast themselves as mere “entertainment.” One could argue that they are providing a service—and a service that could be replicated by other outlets and media.

But as faking sincerity is difficult, replicating insouciance is a challenge. It helps to have fun, smart hosts who don’t have an ideological ax to grind. That’s not to say Stewart and Oliver and Maher (just to mention three) don’t have a point of view; they tend to universally lean leftward. But they are probably more intellectually honest—more willing to call their own team for BS—than most political commentators.

They’re also funny. For them, the rule has to be to “be funny first.” You can have an agenda, but it’s always second fiddle to being funny. Or, if your show is about ideas, then I think it has to be intellectually stimulating first. My point here is that scoring political points probably can’t come first, at least if believe this is the model that works best.

Here, talent is important, too. There were a lot of things about that infamous Jon Stewart rant on Crossfire that I thought were unfair, but one thing he got completely right is that being funny is harder than doing political commentary. On the other hand, Stewart and Oliver and Maher have some huge advantages over their political interlocutors, such as a team of writers helping them come up with one-liners. They’re also held to a lower standard, partly at their own insistence, allowing them to quickly move back and forth between serious public-service style journalism and “we’re all just having fun” irreverence.

So I leave you with this: Could a cable network—tasked with providing content 24/7 replicate the quality of these shows, day in and day out? There’s probably no way that would happen. It’s so much easier and cheaper to book guests to gab about the news of the day. There’s little time or money for flying the perfect guest—maybe a smart author—across the country to have an elevated discussion. But it could work as a model for the Sunday shows which, let’s face it, would benefit from a little more levity.

Political commentary will slowly evolve, and what I think we’re witnessing right now is a kind of transitional period—an adolescence, if you will, and that’s rarely an attractive stage. The current formula for TV news isn’t working, and the networks know it, but they haven’t quite figured out what will replace it. Yes, there will always be a place for serious discussion about policy, but this much seems obvious: A decade from now, political punditry will look very different. And I’m betting on the funny guys.

 

By: Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast, November 19, 2014

November 23, 2014 Posted by | Cable News, Journalism, Network Television | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Deceive, You Believe: A New Reality Show For Sarah Palin And Fox

I have a great idea for a new show on Fox. It would be  a reality comedy show with Sarah Palin as the host. It’s what Hollywood calls  “high concept.” The idea would be that all the Republican presidential  candidates would travel across America in Sarah’s RV. Hilarity follows.

Late night comic Jimmy Fallon put it best: “Obama was  in Ireland. He thought about buying a four-leaf clover for good luck, and then  he looked at the field of Republican candidates and decided it wasn’t  necessary.”

Dramatis personae include:

Gary Johnson—Ex-governor of New Mexico who  favors the legalization of pot. He didn’t get an invite to the next GOP debate,  but his hopes are high and he has grassroots support.

Herman Cain—Multi-millionaire and former CEO of  Godfather’s Pizza. He’s rolling in dough.

Newt Gingrich—Former speaker of the House. If he  really is a fiscal conservative, he would use his $500,000 revolving charge  account at Tiffany’s to make a payment on the federal debt. He is clearly the  jewel in the GOP crown. The former speaker is currently on a cruise with his  wife in the Mediterranean. He will return to the campaign trail after he  decides whether he supports or opposes the Ryan plan to gut Medicare. It might  be a long trip.

Palin—Can the former half-term and half-baked governor of Alaska see Russia from her magic bus? This trip is her  magical mystery tour because we have no idea where it will lead. She rained on Mitt Romney’s parade by showing  up in New Hampshire on the day of Romney’s formal announcement and popping him  for his support of a state run healthcare program in Massachusetts with a  personal mandate. National surveys indicate that twice as many voters dislike  her as like her. So, I don’t think she will get a mandate from Americans.

Michele Bachmann—Tea Party favorite and conservative  congresswoman from Minnesota. When baseball players have a short stay in the  majors, it’s a cup of coffee. She will have a cup of tea in the  presidential race. Last week, Representative Bachmann said she and former half-governor Palin were friends. That didn’t last long. This week, Bachmann’s  campaign manager said Palin wasn’t a “serious” candidate. At least the  Minnesotan and I agree on something.

Chris Christie—Governor of New Jersey. Teddy  Roosevelt described the presidency as a bully pulpit. Christie is just a bully.  Don’t be surprised if he helicopters into the race.

Rudy Giuliani—The former mayor of New York City. Why  not? He did so well last time. If he runs, he should borrow Donald  Trump’s toupee and MapQuest Iowa so he can find it this time.

Jon Huntsman—Ex-governor of Utah who served two years as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China. He will charge  Obama with  incompetence. Just look at the clown the president made ambassador to China.

Bobby Jindal—The governor of Louisiana who is not  ready for prime time TV. But that hardly disqualifies him in this field.

Mitt Romney—Former governor of Massachusetts and the  father of Obamacare.  This would be the grudge match of all time. Healthcare reform 1.0 vs. 2.0. A Romney position is like the New England weather.  Don’t like it, just wait, because it changes every 15 minutes.

Ron Paul—Paul is the anti-Romney because the Texas  congressman sticks to his positions for more than 15 minutes. Actually, he  still holds Herbert Hoover’s positions. But will socially conservative voters  buy his opposition to drug laws and will the neocons accept his opposition to  the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? I don’t think so.

Tim Pawlenty—The former two-term governor of Minnesota is as  bland as his fellow charismatically challenged Minnesotan, Walter Mondale. Jay  Leno described T-Paw to a t when he joked, “You know, I don’t want to say Tim  Pawlenty is boring, but his Secret Service codename is Al Gore.” Bland is good,  though, because the other GOP candidates have enough baggage to fill a Boeing  727 headed for LAX.

Rick Perry—In 2009, the governor of Texas threatened to  secede from the union. The question is whether he wants to lead or to secede.  Too bad Jeff Davis isn’t still around to be his running mate.

Rick Santorum—Why does he torture himself with  the hope he could win? Is the GOP this desperate for a candidate? He  lost his Senate seat in a presidential battleground state, Pennsylvania, by 16 percent.

This may be  why four out of 10 Republicans in a new Pew Research Center poll say they are not  impressed with the GOP presidential candidates. But I think the reality TV show would get  good ratings hammocked between Family Guy and The Simpsons on Sunday  nights.

 

By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, June 9, 2011

June 9, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Deficits, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Government, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Neo-Cons, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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