Be Careful What You Magnify

by Conor Friedersdorf

What I hate to break to Jon Stewart, whose takedowns of cable news I very much enjoy, is that compared to the American population at large, not very many people actually watch cable news, let alone the particular shows he ridicules – and, in fact, by focusing his considerable satirical talents on that niche medium, he is arguably contributing to the strange illusion that it is the primary vehicle for public discourse in the United States.

I'm attune to this sort of thing because critiquing the right's talk radio hosts, a project I've been working at awhile, runs some of the same risks. Fortunately, I am much less funny than Stewart, so I'm not drawing folks who are just out for entertainment into the vortex. That isn't to let myself off the hook. It's a terrible position, having to choose between letting prominent charlatans mislead their audiences unchallenged, or else elevating them by engaging their blather and forgoing better conversations. Sometimes I wish Media Matters was capable of more insight, and less nakedly ideological, so that I wouldn't have to bother.

Anyway, I'd like it if Stewart would expand his critique of cable news to the fact that the amount of attention it's paid makes no sense. That is itself ripe for satire, but then again, maybe an enterprise that pays a bunch of people to TiVo every last minute of cable news coverage looking for gaffes isn't in the best position to raise the issue.

(TNC discusses a tangentially related conundrum here.)