TELEVISION OCTOBER 30, 2013
In a video clip that has gone viral today, Jon Stewart rips into CNN for asking the same question of its guest: "Is X good or bad?" Whether the subject is Obamacare, the war in Syria, or the balance between liberty and security, CNN analysts seem intent on defining things in this somewhat simplified manner. Stewart, who clearly hates CNN (and not without reason), plays a bunch of clips and then mocks various anchors. Some of these clips are just cheap shots (one has a CNN analyst asking the good/bad question about a legal strategy in a criminal trial, which seems perfectly reasonable), and some of them are fair criticisms (one obnoxious anchor demands to know whether complex transactions at JP Morgan were good or bad). Others don't really bother me (Ownership of The Washington Post is "now changing hands," says one anchorwoman. "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?") Stewart then turns to Wolf Blitzer, the most unwatchable man on television. Here he is with Michele Bachmann, talking about Obamacare (watch from 3:50-4:30):
This is good journalism. Blitzer is merely asking a question that people who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act should have to answer. Perhaps Michele Bachmann should not get invited on CNN, but Blitzer's question is precisely the kind of aggressive question that Stewart usually scolds the media for not asking. Stewart then jumps to a clip of an anchorwoman asking about the good/bad dimension of Obama's effort to get Congressional support for action in Syria. I certainly wish that television pundits prior to the war in Iraq had been forced to answer the question of whether war was "good or bad" rather than sprout bromides about American responsibility and weapons of mass destruction.
The basic problem with Stewart's argument is that he seems to be desiring a form of news that doesn't exist: i.e. smart, in-depth commentary. He's right to want it, but in the current cable news environment, when convional wisdom mongers and boring partisan hacks fill the news channels, some simplification and clarity is a step in the right direction.