Newspaper article International New York Times

TV News and the Idea of Truth

Newspaper article International New York Times

TV News and the Idea of Truth

Article excerpt

As Jon Stewart and Brian Williams depart, I found myself recalling very different experiences on their shows.

I haven't been a guest on very many television shows, much to my mother's dismay. But I have been the guest of both Jon Stewart and Brian Williams, the newsy comedian and the comedic newsman who announced very different sorts of leave-taking last week.

As they depart -- Mr. Stewart honorably, Mr. Williams with his integrity in doubt -- I found myself recalling very different experiences on their shows.

Mr. Williams's half-hour "NBC Nightly News," the most widely watched program of its kind in the United States, was businesslike and slick, if not exactly searching. A producer called to ask if I could opine about Google Glass. I didn't know much about it, beyond my observation that people wearing it looked foolish. But I agreed, because I figured my lack of expertise was their problem more than mine.

During the taping, I met neither Mr. Williams, who displayed a fine sense of comic timing in talk-show appearances, nor the reporter for that segment. Instead, several handlers moved me among rooms. I sat at a desk and was asked to give a lot of opinions in no particular order; they'd find something usable. I asked and answered my own questions. They took one sentence of it and put it on air.

Mr. Stewart's "Daily Show," whose comedic approach and smaller ratings belied its significant influence on the American political scene, was very different. I asked a producer there, Hillary Kun, whether we should prepare some questions and answers in advance, as I had found routine on the few news shows I had done. She recoiled, saying something about prearranged ideas eroding the show's integrity.

Mr. Stewart came to the dressing room before the taping. He asked many questions -- the kind people ask when they are actually interested. Unlike many powerful people, he listened, so that each thing he asked was based on a previous answer. I could see he was working out some essential truth that I represented, for use on the show. Then he found it. My return to the India my parents left would be like his going back to the Lithuania shtetl. …

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