Restoring Sanity

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David Carr on Jon Stewart's mass-action press criticism:


It was a beautiful day on the Mall, and who doesn't like kicking the press around, but speaking of ants, media bias and hyperbole seem like pretty small targets when unemployment is near 10 percent, vast amounts of unregulated cash are being spent in the election's closing days, and no American governing institution -- not the Senate, not the House of Representatives, not even the Supreme Court -- seems to be above petty partisan bickering. Mr. Stewart couldn't really go there and instead suggested it was those guys over there in the press tent who had the blood of democracy on their hands. 

Distrust of the media was laid down throughout the rally by video montages of ranting broadcast bobble heads. Even with the vast gulf between their faux respective beliefs, Mr. Stewart and his co-host, Stephen Colbert, found common ground in the failings of the press. Mr. Colbert awarded some media outlets a medal for helping keep fear alive; Mr. Stewart gave out his awards to average Americans who go about their business every day in lives built on compromise and comity. "We work together to get things done every damn day! The only place we don't is here," he said, gesturing toward the Capitol, "or on cable TV...."

But here's the problem: Most Americans don't watch or pay attention to cable television. In even a good news night, about five million people take a seat on the cable wars, which is less than 2 percent of all Americans. People are scared of what they see in their pay envelopes and neighborhoods, not because of what Keith Olbermann said last night or how Bill O'Reilly came back at him. 

 "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," Mr. Stewart said, and then went on to say, "not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate," he said. 

All due respect to Mr. Williams and Mr. Sanchez, not many people know or care who they are.

The illusion of networking is quite amazing. There is this sense that because everyone you know on twitter or facebook (or at The Atlantic) is talking about what Rick Sanchez said, all of America must be. I strongly suspect that many more people are wondering what happened on Blue Bloods last night.

I also think Stewart's critique of media as some kind of corrupting force, at times, borders on demagoguery. It's funny to humiliate MSNBC, Fox News or CNN. In fact, both networks are desperately fighting to give their slice of America what they hunger for. We may not like it. It may seem insane to us--but it should never be forgotten that Bill O'Reilly is serving an actual audience, one that would surely invent O'Reilly if he didn't exist. Indeed they've invented him before. 

It's interesting that Stewart took a stand on Rick Sanchez's firing. He's certainly argued that Williams shouldn't have been fired before on his show. I may have missed it, but I don't recall him being nearly that generous with Sanchez. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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