Recent studies have shown that most young people get their news from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” my professor noted with incredulity. He was shocked and visibly disturbed that most of us would turn to a self-proclaimed “fake” news peddler over “real” news.
As an enthusiastic consumer of Stewart’s hilarious brand of fake news, I feel an obligation to explain its appeal. I can’t speak for all Stewart fans, but for me, “The Daily Show” represents the only cable news program worth watching. I used to be a regular consumer of all the cable news networks, including CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN and even the notorious FOX News. I watched these stations with the naíve assumption that I was actually getting the news, when in reality what I was getting was about as useful — not to mention as painful — as a swift kick to the head.
When I said I watched FOX News earlier that was only half-true. It was less watching and more observing, the way you would observe monkeys at a zoo. I found FOX News entertaining the same way I find car crashes and drunk vomiting people entertaining; it was an odd mix of staring in stunned silence at the site of an unspeakable tragedy and reveling in the misfortune of others.
Take, for instance, the jewel in the crown of the FOX News empire, Bill O’Reilly. “The O’Reilly Factor” embodies everything wrong with broadcast journalism today. To watch “The Factor” is to increase your likelihood of a stress-related heart attack. The anger angle that O’Reilly uses to approach news works with both his fans and his critics. His fans get to live vicariously through him as he sadistically browbeats his opponents, who are usually NAMBLA members with speech impediments. His detractors — I include myself here — usually find themselves throwing inanimate objects at the TV screen.
A political talk show host that tells you that he exists in a mythical “no-spin zone” is like somebody saying they’ll respect you the morning after a one-night stand; either way, you’re getting fucked. Despite all of this, O’Reilly is astonishingly the most popular media figure on cable TV. He’s so popular that he’s inspired dozens of clones on competing networks, turning cable news into a three-ring circus that would make PT Barnum proud.
MSNBC features the dumbass duo of Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough, whose idea of a debate is making sure your opponent can’t finish a sentence. Until very recently, CNN’s claim to fame was “Crossfire,” a show that likened political debate to a war zone. The term talking heads is no longer accurate; screaming heads is more like it.
FOX News has taught us that extremism is entertaining, and that’s the sad truth. O’Reilly may be a lot of things (you can think of your own four-letter word), but the last thing he would be is boring. While the American public may claim to be averse to political extremists, we still find two total lunatics verbally castigating each other to be highly entertaining. Even C-SPAN ended up damaging its credibility by interviewing a Holocaust-denying nutcase in the name of finding a balance.
The result has been a blurring of the lines between news and opinion. In an effort to make news more newsworthy, the only thing these cable news networks have succeeded in doing is turning our news into little more than televised tabloids. Even during segments that purportedly report the news, these news networks trot out some left-wing nutcase to have at it with some other right-wing lunatic over an issue that is more than likely of very little importance to our lives.
As long as the goober heads at MSNBC, CNN and FOX have seen it fit to turn news into a sick joke, I figure why not turn on “The Daily Show” and laugh the night away? Jon’s honest, funny, surprisingly informative and you don’t wake up hating yourself in the morning.
Neil Visalvanich is a Daily Nexus columnist.