In Defense of Cable News

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I'm obviously a fan of Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, and much of the talent there. But I think last night's skewering of the media's coverage of the Trayvon Martin case was a bit off. I don't believe that any subject is off-limits for comedy, though perhaps some require more skill than others. The problem with Stewart's critique isn't the subject, so much as the method.


The standard Daily Show formula is to show the media doing ridiculous things. The Trayvon Martin case has certainly seen its share of that. Talk show hosts in hoodies, or interviewing empty chairs are certainly fodder for comedic send-up. But in this case, beneath the routine (and correct) truth that media over-reports and under-informs, that it manufactures news, is the fact that without the media, much of this country would never have heard of Trayvon Martin.

Surely they did it in their own flawed way. But as someone who worked this story, when only a few other reporters were paying attention, I have to say that the spectacle, and the attention which followed, worked for the good. It was the spectacle that drew the attention of Rick Scott. It was the spectacle that drew the attention of Barack Obama. Without the spectacle you don't get attention, and without attention, the legacy of Trayvon Martin is left to the hands of the Sanford police department.

I rarely feel any sympathy for the talking heads Stewart skewers, but I'm not sure what, precisely, they should have done differently here. Stand Your Ground is an actual issue. The expansion of Castle Doctrine is an actual issue. "The Talk" is an actual issue. This doesn't push them out of the comedic boundaries, but I think they deserve something more than recycling the same meta-jokes about how the news-cycle gets it wrong. 

I guess, I didn't find it to be very funny.
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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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