Friday, May 05, 2006

Stephen Colbert: making news in spite of the MSM

By suggestion, I am writing about Stephen Colbert's bit at the White House correspondents dinner. The way everything has played out--Colbert's great routine, the chilly reception on the part of the dinner attendees, the lack of print accorded to what was certainly the most newsworthy moment at a usually unexciting event, and the subsequent outcry by bloggers and many in the alternate media--point to the mainstream media (or MSM)'s decreasing relevancy.

Of course, they still have the largest megaphone, so to speak, which is free use of our nation's airwaves and mass-circulating, well-recognized newspapers, but as this group continuously clams up when faced with giving attention to events like the Colbert routine (not to mention a lot of troubling societal problems like stagnant wages, decreased social mobility, etc.), others are stepping in. The MSM is unsurprisingly treating them as crazy, unrelenting, out of the mainstream, and so on. They've been trying to write off bloggers forever, but in so doing, they're writing off the actions of average citizens. I don't know what's more elitist than that.

Take for instance how PBS's News Hour
reported an instance in January when the ombudsman of the Washington Post shut down the comments page on the paper's website after posters wrote her that she had misrepresented the nature of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's donations:
The Jack Abramoff scandal is one of the most explosive stories in politics these days but when Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell recently wrote about the paper's coverage of this story, little did she know that she was setting off a firestorm of her own.
...She was then deluged with close to 1,000 comments, most critical of her suggestion that both parties were complicit in the scandal.
...But the online onslaught didn't stop. [Emphasis added].

Note the words used to describe the commenters and their actions. They're not treated as concerned citizens who would like to see a large newspaper rectify its mis-reporting but rather are treated as a "deluge."

So back to Colbert. Again, the MSM reveals how uninterested--or perhaps just scared--they are to report strong criticisms of the Bush Administration, even if these criticisms are cloaked in humor. Again, the MSM demonstrates their irrelevancy. As a Time magazine television critic said recently, "What anyone fails to get who said Colbert bombed because he didn't win over the room is: the room no longer matters. Not the way it used to." Furthermore, "Colbert's roasting of the president this weekend got nearly 70,000 posts on blogs according to the blog-tracking Web site Technorati -- the most of any subject Thursday" according to an NBC correspondent. As a result, the MSM has had to acknowledge that this is a story.

Now, the talking point among the MSM has become that Colbert's skit was "not funny," which is not only blatantly wrong, but it also doesn't make the event any less newsworthy. (If the news got reported on based on their funiness, the D.C. press corps would be out of jobs). As points out about the "not funny" line:

Milbank’s assessment was shared by many journalists at the dinner, a reaction that can partly be explained by the pressure Washington reporters have long felt from well-organized right-wing media-attack groups to give Bush and other conservatives the benefit of every doubt. [See's "The Bush Rule of Journalism" or Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]

Consortium continues:

Even before the Colbert controversy, the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner and similar press-politician hobnobbing have been cringing examples of unethical journalistic behavior.

The American people count on the news media to act as their eyes and ears, as watchdogs on the government, not lap dogs wagging tails and licking the faces of administration officials. Whatever value these dinners might once have had – as an opportunity for reporters to get to know government sources in a more casual atmosphere – has long passed.

Since the mid-1980s, the dinners have become competitions among the news organizations to attract the biggest Hollywood celebrities or infamous characters from the latest national scandal. Combined with lavish parties sponsored by free-spending outlets like Vanity Fair or Bloomberg News, the dinners have become all about the buzz.

Plus, while these self-indulgent affairs might seem fairly harmless in normal political times, they are more objectionable when American troops are dying overseas and the Executive Branch is asserting its right to trample constitutional rights, including First Amendment protections for journalists.

Remember Bush's supposedly comic routine from a couple of years ago where he was searching under his desk for WMDs? The sight of an insulated White House press corps sitting in that banquet room watching and laughing a skit that basically trivialized our military's presence in Iraq was pretty sickening. Colbert is just tugging the veil off of a discomfiting relationship between the MSM and the current president, and it's not surprising that they're both mad at him for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you for the great coverage and encouraging update on how Colbert's appearance has been received. hopefully, he knows how vindicated he is! ~ hm