Friday, May 15, 2009

Jim Cramer = Tim Russert = Bad Journalism?

Read this excellent Salon article by Glenn Greenwald comparing Jon Stewart's take-down of Jim Cramer a bit back to the general failures of (US?) journalism. Specifically using Tim Russert as an example, from when he interviewed Cheney on the "Saddam had aluminum tubes for centrifuges to make nukes" leak that had come from within the White House itself (which, this example in turn came from Bill Moyers):

BOB SIMON: Remarkable. You leak a story, and then you quote the story. I mean, that's a remarkable thing to do. . . .

TIM RUSSERT (MEET THE PRESS), TO CHENEY: What specifically has [Saddam] obtained that you believe will enhance his nuclear development program?

BILL MOYERS: Was it just a coincidence in your mind that Cheney came on your show and others went on the other Sunday shows, the very morning that that story appeared?

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know. The NEW YORK TIMES is a better judge of that than I am.

BILL MOYERS: No one tipped you that it was going to happen?

TIM RUSSERT: No, no. I mean-

BILL MOYERS: The Cheney office didn't leak to you that there's gonna be a big story?

TIM RUSSERT: No. No. I mean, I don't have the-- This is, you know-- on MEET THE PRESS, people come on and there are no ground rules. We can ask any question we want. I did not know about the aluminum tubes story until I read it in the NEW YORK TIMES.

BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September Eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable. Someone in the Administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES. And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.

My concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.

BILL MOYERS: Bob Simon didn't wait for the phone to ring.

Point being, Russert didn't have to, or shouldn't, "wait for the phone to ring" to do research verifying or disputing his interviewees' stories:
I'm under the assumption, and maybe this is purely ridiculous, but I'm under the assumption that you don't just take their word at face value. That you actually then go around and try to figure it out.
What's interesting, among other things, is that Stewart never promotes himself as an arbiter of truth, he always says he's an entertainer and comedian, and I can't think of a single time when he implied, much less said, that getting information or informed comment from him was a good idea -- despite the fact that it is, especially in comparison to actual "journalists". Tucker Carlson, whose show Crossfire got canceled shortly after Jon Stewart made a mockery of it and Carlson (and Begala: "You guys are hurting America"), complained that Stewart "wanted to have it both ways", by having people take his concerns seriously, but also to say "he's just a comedian"; Carlson urged Stewart to stop criticizing them and just be funny, as if being a comedian means by default that he also can never say something serious. Here's the thing: even though Stewart is smarter than the average bear, his modesty, false or not, is the direct opposite of the Messianic or infallible impartial arbiters of news motifs of mainstream journalism. Stewart, in essence, ALWAYS implies, "check it out for yourself," because he never encourages the audience to take something on his authority (or, usually, his guest's either, since he usually asks -- *usually* asks -- questions that are intellectually critical focused on the author's work, and then of course, shills the book, but in Stewart's case, I feel like he himself actually read and processed the information in the book, so his shilling it rings much less hollow than, say, someone on The Today Show or Jay Leno would sound if he was hawking a book written by a think-tanker).

Intentional or not, Stewart's combination of intellectual analysis, critical thinking, and abject over-the-top "no, seriously, I am not that smart" comes close to the stance real journalists should have. And yet, it seems almost as if his protestations of not being a journalist in way is exactly what allows him the liberty to be as tough, intellectual, and thorough as he is... I mean, seriously, the world (or at least Sunday news) would be infinitely better with him as the interviewer on Meet the Press. With my admiration for him kept in mind, believe me when I say that I think that speaks much more negatively of the press than it speaks positively for him -- simply because the fact that he's doing a better job than they are is laudable, but the fact they do so poorly is simply inexcusable.

1 comment:

Daktari said...

I tend to agree. Dick Gregory reminds me of a local news weatherman. He's just reading what the guys at NOAA feed him. A talking head and nothing more.