Thursday, September 23, 2010

Never Judge a Book By Its Colbert.

How bad is the mainstream media in this country? So bad, that this October 30th two “fake news” anchors are going to host a rally in Washington: one to restore sanity, the other to keep fear alive. And here’s the rub, neither man knows a thing about the news business, but both men, however, know a thing or two about comedy.

To say that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been doing yeoman’s work for the better part of the last two years dicing and slicing their way through the hot topics of the day would be an understatement. Truth be told in one hour both men are far more likely to discuss and deal with critical issues in a relevant and meaningful way than all the “news” networks combined do in one day, to the great shame of CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC. For obvious reasons I chose to exclude Fox News. Two “fake news” shows are enough.

True both men employ comedy, which when used effectively, does give them a leg up, even over someone with a name like Wolf Blitzer. But it’s much more than comedy. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the going’s on in the country over the last two years no doubt is aware that tensions are high and nerves are raw. Everywhere you turn it seems there is some correspondent saying how bad things are. Lunatics take to the streets and rally to take back the country that was “stolen” from them, demigods rile up the masses to fever pitch and most of the news media rides the wave, capitalizing on the ratings it gets by turning up the heat itself. If you’re not Hitler, you’re Stalin. That is when you’re not a Muslim extremist looking to spread Sharia law all over the Constitution.

Someone had to step in. Enter Jon Stewart, stage left. Stewart has long been a thorn in the side of extremists in this country, calling them out on his half-hour program, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He has hosted and ripped apart the likes of Betsy McCaughey (lying about death panels), Jim Cramer (collusion with swap defaults), and Bill Kristol (well for just being stupid I guess). And throughout it all he has had the courage to ask the tough questions other journalists can only dream about asking, and then follow them up with relentless abandon until something approaching the truth is gotten at. Somewhere in heaven Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite are rolling around in their graves hysterically at the irony of it all. “Jon Stewart,” I wrote in a blog last year, “for better or worse, has now become the guardian of journalistic integrity.”

Not to be outdone, his counterpart, Stephen Colbert – enter stage right, please – has done his best to spread his own brand of “truthiness” on his show, “The Colbert Report.” The pseudo conservative / satirist extraordinaire has been pulling the leg of the Right for years. His recent interview with Laura Ingraham is the stuff of legend. Talk about walking into the O.K. Corral. While Stewart plays it straight, Colbert opts for a far more sardonic, playful banter. His “Word” segment has lampooned just about every serious topic and celebrity under the sun, and all while Colbert plays the cool, poker-faced customer. Whereas with Stewart you see it coming a mile away, with Colbert you’re left wondering who got the license plate of that truck.

It’s the one-two punch to end all one-two punches, and now this one-two punch is set to descend on the Mall in Washington D.C. less than a week before the mid-terms. Jon Stewart’s rally to restore sanity is the perfect antidote to Stephen Colbert’s rally to keep fear alive. While Stewart tries to “take it down a notch,” Colbert will “notch it up a skotch.” You could say both men are the opposite sides of the same coin, but then you’d be missing the point. They are brilliant comics who have carved out a niche for themselves out of the vacuum of incompetence that currently passes for broadcast journalism these days.

But, the real story here is the millions of viewers who tune in each night to watch this dynamic duo. How many of them will actually show up October 30th and what effect, if any, will this “rally” have on the November elections? No one knows for sure. This much I do know: with all the vitriol that has dominated the national discourse these last two years, one can only hope that some sanity, along with a reasonably healthy dose of fear, prevails.

As for my wife and I, if the opportunity presents itself, we plan on being there. It will be nice to get away from it all – the insanity I mean – and kick back and have a reasonably fun-filled day with some reasonably sane folks who actually have a life and who don’t look like refugees from a Halloween costume party.

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