Monday, October 25, 2010

The NewsBusters Trilogy, Part Two: An Exercise in Futility

In Part One I discussed NewsBusters, and their relentless commitment to exposing liberal bias in the media. Turns out it's pretty easy, especially when you pick on professional hyperbole-spewers like Keith Olbermann, or disgraced politicians like Eliot Spitzer, or embarrassing loudmouths like Rosie O'Donnell. But NewsBusters wouldn't be where they are today if they were content to go after the easy targets. Their mission is to expose every square inch of liberal bias, even if it comes from the one media personality who still clings to archaic standards of journalistic integrity and intellectual honesty.

I'm referring, of course, to Jon Stewart.[1]

Now, close your eyes for a second and try to visualize politics as a one-dimensional line with a horizontal (i.e. left to right) orientation—a spectrum, if you will. And suppose that every person occupies a point somewhere on that line, as determined by their individual ideologies. (I know, I know—belief systems are way too complex and nuanced for such a simplistic model to have any real meaning, but bear with me.) At the left end of this spectrum is, say, Karl Marx, and at the right end is, I don't know…Sarah Palin.[2] Based on those parameters, it's probably a safe bet that Stewart would occupy a point somewhere left of the center.

Thing is, I don't think it matters, because virtually everything he says and does on The Daily Show is ideologically-neutral. He doesn't use the show to advocate tax increases, or health care reform, or gay rights, or [insert the thing you're most concerned about the liberal media shoving down the throats of Real Americans]. He uses it to promote accountability (in government, corporations, and the media), rational conversation, and understanding of different points of view.

But still, he's a liberal. Therefore, as far as the brilliant thinkers at NewsBusters are concerned, he's undoubtedly engaged in a narrow-minded campaign to further his nefarious agenda. And don't think they can't produce some evidence!
In Stewart's castigation of this error, he made it seem as if Hannity was personally responsible for it even though it's much more than likely that the clips were added from the September 12 rally without Hannity's knowledge…[W]hat Stewart did on Tuesday was far from either comedy or media analysis, but instead a clear extension of his own anti-Fox agenda.
[W]hen Stewart turned to actual data instead of humor, was he innocent of manipulating the polls? A quick look proves Stewart and his researchers mangled the poll numbers he used on screen…If the best argument liberals like Stewart can make is that perhaps Democrats should pass a health care bill that a "plurality" supports after pushed around by pollsters, then the desperate spinners are not the Fox News personnel.
Liberal comedian Jon Stewart featured a rare conservative voice on Tuesday's Daily Show, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. As he often does during the occasions he talks to right-leaning guests, Stewart turned combative, attacking Thiessen for "living in a selective world."
Comedian Jon Stewart on Wednesday bashed Fox News for parent company News Corporation's $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association. Unfortunately, Stewart failed to inform his viewers that Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, has so far given disproportionately to Democrats this year. Also missing in the "Daily Show" host's attack of FNC and Glenn Beck was that News Corp. prior to this contribution had historically given more to Democrats than Republicans.[3]
Actually, many people believe [Stewart is a legitimate source of news] including folks inside the news industry, which of course is pathetic. Also pitiful is that people like Stewart and his ilk routinely talk about Fox being extreme as they typically give MSNBC a pass despite it being much further to the left than FNC is to the right.
Maybe they're on to something, maybe not. If you watch someone closely enough, of course you'll spot a few examples of the type of bias you're specifically trying to find. But the sheer breadth of NewsBusters' coverage of the Evil Liberal Plot to Take Over the Government or Destroy America or Whatever creates an interesting paradox: Any time a prominent liberal is criticized, it's taken as further evidence of that person's crippling liberalism, so NewsBusters reports it—even if the criticism came from a fellow liberal.[4]

Here are a few such headlines from the last 18 months (along with a sampling of the language used in the articles to imply that these stories are weird aberrations from the norm):
Jon Stewart Cows Another Lefty - Did Matthews Change Book Title Over Stewart Mockery? ("unexpected")
Jon Stewart: Obama Handled Gates Racism Question 'Stupidly' ("quite surprisingly", "I kid you not")
Jon Stewart on ClimateGate: 'Poor Al Gore - Global Warming Debunked Via Internet You Invented' ("Somewhat surprisingly")
Jon Stewart Rips Obama's Surge Speech: Sounds Like Bush in 2007 ("surprisingly")
Jon Stewart Slams Rachel Maddow (!) for Politicizing US Response to Earthquake in Haiti ("There's hope for Jon Stewart yet.")
Stewart Blasts Olbermann for Brown Rants, Defends Michelle Malkin ("shocking", "surprisingly")
Jon Stewart Defends Republicans From Claims They Planted Alvin Greene ("mysteriously opposite to contentions by some liberal media members")
Stewart: Fox Snookered No One, Breitbart Most Honest Person In Sherrod Affair ("surprising")
Is anyone else reminded of Tom Hanks' "Mr. Short-Term Memory" character from Saturday Night Live? ("There's food in my mouth!") I mean, every damn time, it's "Whoa, that's an oddly reasonable thing for a liberal to say. Where'd that come from?"

But how can I prove once and for all that Jon Stewart's leftward slant is, if not imaginary, at least irrelevant to the larger message of his show? I can't (hence this article's title). I can think of, like, a dozen more angles I could go into, but it's simply not the sort of thing that can be proven. So I'll just make one last observation: About a month ago, a certain Republican from Delaware got herself all over the news for some pretty silly reasons. Practically everyone in the media—especially the liberals and the comedians (plenty of overlap in that Venn diagram)—weighed in:
David Letterman: Christine O’Donnell promised that if she’s elected to the Senate for Delaware, she’ll cast a spell on healthcare.
Jay Leno: I don't know a lot about Christine O'Donnell, but she has some interesting views. She has come out against masturbation. And you thought the war on drugs was unwinnable.
Jimmy Kimmel: The tea party supported a woman named Christine O’Donnell who, in the 1990s, mounted a campaign to stop kids from masturbating. It didn’t work.
SNL's Kristen Wiig (as O'Donnell): Hi. I'm Christine O'Donnell, and I'm not a witch. I'm nothing like you've heard. I'm you. And just like you, I have to constantly deny that I'm a witch.
Keith Olbermann: Karl Rove [wigged out] over the lump of dumb and judgmental that is Christine O’Donnell.
Maureen Dowd: Evolution is no myth, but we may be evolving backward. Christine O’Donnell had better hope they don’t bring back witch burning.
Jon Stewart: Poor Christine O'Donnell.  Look, she said something on MTV 20 years ago. I am the last person to judge someone who said weird things on MTV 20 years ago…She may be qualified; she may not…But the last thing that I would suggest is that her witchcraft or masturbation stance is what we should be even thinking about or focusing on. And I think that's an enormous mistake that the Democrats will make.
Which of these quotes is not like the others? (Hint: It's a different color.)

Coming up: Part Three, in which NewsBusters discovers an alarming new threat to freedom and American values, and—guess what?—exposes it.

1. I'm also being facetious, but only a little.
2. Yeah, I used Palin because she's funny, but also—and I'm clearly not an expert here—it doesn't seem right to equate people like, say, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman with today's conservatives, because I don't think they'd be so adamant about legislating morality. Am I wrong about that? Who is the personification of the modern conservative ideology? Please tell me it's not really Sarah Palin.
3. This one is kind of funny. Stewart called out (skullf#@ked, if you prefer) News Corp. for donating $1 million to the Republicans. NewsBusters then claimed his motives were less than honorable, entering into evidence the following points: (1) He didn't say anything about Viacom giving more to Democrats, and (2) If you don't count the $1 million (under the little-known highest-and-lowest-get-thrown-out rule, I guess), News Corp. had also given more to Democrats. Fair enough—both of those things are true. Of course, Viacom had only given 110K to Democrats (67K to Republicans) which at least partially reflects the fact that there are simply more Democrats in office right now (and you can't buy political favors from politicians who aren't in office). And News Corp. had given 123K to Democrats (112K to Republicans), so that million shifted the ratio pretty drastically the other way, but shut up, there's liberal bias everywhere!
    Anyway, I went through all that in part because I also want to point out that I haven't looked into any of the other accusations of bias at all. I'm sure some of them aren't complete nonsense, but I wouldn't take them at face value either.

4. Because these people are dangerous, selfish ideologues who will stop at nothing to further their radical agendas (agendae?), and therefore cannot be trusted to provide unbiased, fact-based analysis…except when they criticize somebody else we don't like.

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