Higgins: Mainstream media no longer recognizes missionWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The latest troika of scandals is proving to be not only a serious injury for the Obama administration, but for those covering it as well.
Benghazi is not merely a tragedy — if not criminal negligence — that led to the deaths of four Americans including an Ambassador, but also a tragedy in the refusal of all but one of the major news agencies to cover it until recently. The unfolding story of overreach by the IRS against groups of conservative ideology amazingly has some in the mainstream media attempting to defend this agency’s abuse of first amendment rights as justifiable scrutiny of right-wing fanatics. The Justice Department obtaining phone records of Associated Press (AP) employees secretly and without a warrant has the press justifiably jumping out of their collective skins, while trying not to push too hard, lest it draw attention to their other two failures.
To its credit, the mainstream media should be congratulated for informing the president of what’s going on in an IRS bureaucracy that’s part of the executive branch, since in spite of calling for it in recent speeches, he was apparently surprised that such politically-motivated behavior was occurring on his watch. Attorney General Eric Holder had likewise assumed the comic role of “Sergeant Schultz” within his department where the AP was concerned, having equated the concept of recusal from supervising the offending investigation to remaining oblivious questionable action going on in it. As for Benghazi — apparently everyone in the CIA, FBI, Defense and State departments and the White House was playing an elaborate email game of “Telephone” where one person passes a story on to another with the end result bearing no resemblance to the original tale.
With such examples occurring, there’s little surprise that no one believes the politicians, press secretaries, spokespersons and bureaucratic drones who feed us lines of politically corrected and meaningless doublespeak from their respective podiums. Perhaps the press can even be forgiven for its failure to “ask a direct question, dammit”; when they know that they will not be given an answer. The 24-hour news networks and hours of prime time political punditry on them hasn’t helped however. People understand that in these interpretations of the day’s events, that they are getting not fact, but opinion. Sadly, the only choice left to them is whether they are more comfortable listening to the maunderings of Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews or Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
However, the mainstream media efforts and product are increasingly moving from the sublime to the ridiculous. Beginning with the introduction of the “comedy news” first used on “Saturday Night Live,” younger audiences are increasingly getting their take on daily events from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” or its spin-off, “The Colbert Report.”
Recent Pew Research Study information points to the fact that almost as many in the 18-to-29 age group are getting their news from the Comedy Channel programs as are getting it from ABC, NBC or CBS (combined). Not to be outdone in madness, Fox News has recently introduced “The Five,” where an afternoon roundtable of its pundits try to achieve a balanced mixture or sophistry and sarcasm plus a late-night effort called “Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld,” where the most sarcastic member of the earlier show teams up with fellow comedians and occasional public figures in a Henny Youngman treatment of the days events. (“Take my news, please.”)
Poor treatment of world events was bad enough when we were laughing at the spokespeople sweating under the lights and the news readers blundering through teleprompter pages, but we’ve moved beyond Andy Rooney’s whiny voice pointing out the obvious and ridiculous world that we live in at the end of “60 Minutes.” The line between news, punditry and standup has now been irrevocably blurred.
Stewart admits he hosts a comedy show, but wants to be taken seriously when he interviews senior statesman like John McCain. (No wait, that has to be a joke.) Stephen Colbert wears his stodgy “Pat Paulson” character like a cheap suit that he can’t remove. “The Five” are far too often funny when they should be serious and serious about things where we should laugh so as not to cry. As for Fox’s “Red Eye,” this occasionally amusing effort misses the mark so often that we can only be glad that it wasn’t called “Bullseye.”
And that’s TV news today. It’s a medium now so afflicted that it seldom recognizes what its mission is. Despite vast technologies at its fingertips, instead of being more informative, more insightful and more entertaining than any time in its history, it has perhaps instead fatally wounded its credibility, its power and its ability to move people.
This latest comic cast left on the stage attempting to perform their sorry roles merely adds insult to that injury.