Half an Hour to Spend
It's Friday evening and I have a half hour to spend. I've eaten dinner, I'm between books, and I'm totally free. I want to use my half hour wisely, maybe catch up on current events.
"What shall I do?" I ask myself, "What shall I do?"
I tried to watch a video rerun of CNN's Paula Zahn's Thursday night news program which a kind neighbor dropped off for me. On the tape, Paula, the former Fox TV news personality, played a video clip of Vice-president Cheney dissing John Kerry for using the word "sensitive" in the same paragraph as the phrase "war on terrorism." Then she invited two guests -- John Fund of the right-wing Wall Street Journal's editorial page and John Judas from the right-wing New Republic editorial staff -- to have a love fest about whether... Well, I'll let Paula's words speak for themselves:
PAULA ZAHN: But did John Kerry use the wrong words, John Judas, when he talked about fighting, among other things, a more sensitive war on terror, or was that a mistake?
Great interrogation style, Paula! "Did John Kerry use the wrong words... or was that a mistake?" I guess they must pay you for being so verbally sharp, eh?
Kind of reminds me of that old National Lampoon headline -- "Herpes: Threat or Menace?"
I decided to skip the rest of the tape. No one on CNN was responsible enough to put Kerry's words into their actual context. If Paula Zahn doesn't have more than 5 seconds for a (misleading) Kerry soundbite, then I sure as heck am not going to give her more than 5 seconds of my time.
I decided to turn on the TV and use my Friday night half hour to watch Washington Week, where a transcript of Friday's program will be available in a few days.
In place of the increasingly conservative-leaning Gwen Ifel there was Alan Murray of the reliably right-wing CNBC. Alongside him was the New York Times' stenographer-to-the-White-House-press-corps, David Sanger.
In an almost exact echo of the Paul Zahn show, Murray first showed the same clip of Dick Cheney that Paula Zahn had. Then Sanger devoted a couple of minutes to pointing out that John Kerry used the word "sensitive" when describing how the 'war on terrorism' should be fought. That goes down badly with the voters, he said. They don't want "NEEW-aunce," he added, giving the vowels a broad and vaguely French pronunciation.
Once again, not deserving of my time. Just idiotic spinning.
I realize that Washington Week lasts only half an hour. But that's all I had, too. And I didn't care to waste my time watching smug scriveners from the Fourth Estate trade knowing winks while preening themselves before the camera.
So, I thought I might as well turn back to the VCR and slip in the other video my neighbor made for me.
Hey! There's Jon Stewart. It's the Comedy Channel. Well, why not? After all, this year The Television Critics Association gave The Daily Show an award for Outstanding Achievement in News and Information. Strange, perhaps, but true.
What's more, this week it was learned The Daily Show equalled MCNBC's prime time audience for late night viewers. It also bested CNN, Fox and "all the major news channels for the 18-49 and 18-34 demographic."
It turns out this tape was made of Thursday night's program. It will be viewable in a day or two on the Daily Show web site.
But wouldn't you know it? Stewart started covering the same news item: Cheney disses Kerry for using the word "sensitive" in the same paragraph as "terrorism." There's the same clip of potty-mouthed Dick. There's the same clip of Kerry saying the no-no word.
But wait! There's more!
Now Jon Stewart is showing a video clip of President Bush speaking before the Journalists of Color conference on August 6. What's this? President Bush just said --
"Now, in terms of the balance between running down intelligence and bringing people to justice obviously is -- we need to be very sensitive on that."
How can that be? Did Bush just use that terrible word. too? Did he say a "sensitive" approach to terrorism was needed? None of the other news shows mentioned this! How can this be?
How can it be that all the newspapers, and wire services, and TV news networks could miss that? I understand that in the excerise of editorial judgment they think it is Big News when the word "sensitive" appears in the same paragraph as "terrorism." After all, they've been carrying, more or less, the same Paula Zahn-Alan Murray version of Cheney's effort to start a food fight over that word for three days. But the only mention that Bush used the same word in the same context in the same week is found on Jon Stewart's Daily Show!
If you've been wondering, as I have, what ever happened to good ol' fashioned Fred Friendly-Edward R. Murrow-Walter Cronkite journalism, take half an hour, as I did, and you'll find it is alive and well on the Comedy Channel.
That seems bizzare, I'll grant you. But not half as bizzare as what has happened to serious journalism in this country.