Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Faux News: Laughter May Be the Best Medicine for Bad News

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Faux News: Laughter May Be the Best Medicine for Bad News

Article excerpt

"Liberals and conservatives agree--the media is badly biased," opines The Daily Show's "senior media analyst" Stephen Colbert. So what's the cure for news that claims to be fair and balanced but is often distorted? Answer: Fake news that is clearly distorted but which turns the phrase "fair and balanced" on its head with equal-opportunity mockery--denying presidents, candidates, and pundits the dignity usually afforded them by mainstream media.

Jesus humiliated his opponents on occasion (Luke 13:17) and never hesitated to put leaders in their place (Matthew 23). Through his documentary films and short-lived television series, Michael Moore elevated to an art form the ability to take people who think they're important and make them look dumb. His embarrassment of corporate America, however, left his shows (TV Nation, The Awful Truth) without sponsors--and a satire-shaped vacuum in an America already aching from a declining Saturday Night Live.

Comedy Central's The Daily Show has stepped into the void. Anchor Jon Stewart was mocking Bush's war a year before it was popular to do so, with coverage bearing titles such as "Mess O'Potamia" and "Rationalization: Iraqi Freedom," punching precision holes in the administration's "mission accomplished" and "bring 'em on" bravado. When other networks were still broadcasting cheerleading embeds, the show's derisive dissent was Prozac for post-protest depression.

When politicians say something dumb, most network anchors have the uncanny ability to keep a straight free. Not so on The Daily Show. When candidate Sen. John Kerry said, "If gas prices keep rising at the rate they are now, Dick Cheney and George Bush are going to have to carpool to work," Stewart, without comment, pauses for laughter--not with Kerry, but definitely at Kerry. He then says slowly, as if speaking to a child, "Actually, Sen. Kerry, the president doesn't actually have to carpool to work--he lives where he works. It's a house--the White House...." Stewart then goes on to dissect a Bush attack ad that distorts Kerry's record on gas taxes. How's that for fair and balanced?

The show also takes aim at the "real" news media itself. Says Stewart in one segment, "I love watching talented journalists who've worked their entire lives to get to the point where they're in the White House press corps, only to find themselves turned into dictation machines." Remarking on the unusual aggressiveness with which reporters at the time were pursuing Bush's National Guard record, he jabs, "I have one question for the press corps: Where the [bleeped] have you been? …

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