Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Most Trusted Names in News

This week’s “The New Yorker” has an interesting article titled, “ANCHOR AWAY: Katie Couric’s ill-fated voyage with CBS” by Nancy Franklin. It’s interesting not because of what it says about Couric herself (in my opinion Couric never had the gravitas necessary to succeed as a nightly news anchor; ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas is another story all-together), but because of what it says about the news media.

After chuckling at Franklin’s obvious shout-out to NPR (“I’ve always been a morning-radio person, not a morning-TV person — I don’t want to look at people when I wake up, I don’t want advice about keeping children happy during long car trips, I don’t want to hear about anybody’s dream wedding, and I would rather not know where in the world Matt Lauer is…”), I enjoyed reading her brief analysis of the state of the network news, the inability to predict which anchor will click with the public and which will fail, and the bygone days when “the person who sat in the anchor chair was hugely important.”

I confess I am old school when it comes to my news. Like Franklin, I love my NPR in the morning, but in the evenings, I enjoy seeing the things I previously only heard about. I grew up on ABC’s Peter Jennings, but since his death have migrated to NBC’s Brian Williams. I tend to go for the whole cult of personality thing when it comes to network anchors. I miss the days when “it was the news division’s reputation that set the tone for a network’s identity.”

What’s most illuminating is when Franklin bemoans the state of network news as an organization no longer interested in, passionate about or brave enough to do the sort of hard-hitting pieces that once made them great. “I don’t think that people want less news; they want, I believe, the same kind of informed passion and doggedness that TV-news people displayed while covering Hurricane Katrina, and they want anchors to go deep into issues.”

Ask any Gen Xer or Millennial and you are likely to find that two of their primary news sources are Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report.” Before you put on sackcloth and ashes, Franklin argues, consider that “when Dick Cheney denies making certain statements about the war in Iraq and Stewart shows three video clips that prove he’s lying, I think he’s providing a real service to the country, and I’d like to think that that’s what his fans are responding to.”

She’s exactly right. As much fun as Stewart and Colbert are and as many laughs as they give me each night, beneath the veneer of humor is actual, hard-hitting analysis that is not being done by the very people for whom it should be second nature. Even Maureen Dowd agrees. Don’t believe me? Watch any given week and you'll see Stewart conduct interviews more dogged and incisive than you will see anywhere else; you'll see Colbert skewer politicians and pundits alike in a satirical manner that would give Voltaire goose-bumps. For a free and independent press, our media acts more often like an animal terrified to bite the hand that supposedly feeds it.

Who knows, Franklin goes on to say, “young people might turn on their TVs in droves if news organizations had a few choice strands of Michael Moore’s DNA in them, and pointed out when, say, a public official wasn’t telling the truth.”

What a novel concept.


Blogger Peter T Chattaway said...

Ah, but who will point out when the Michael Moores of the world don't tell the truth? Besides his Canadian ex-fans that is.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Grinth said...

I whole-heartedly agree although I feel like you left out one key point. Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report get their teeth into any one that is desrving, regardless of political party.

I still remember The Daily Show's coverage of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It was no holds barred and absolutely hilarious.

9:23 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

I absolutely agree. And an addendum to Grinth's addendum: The Daily Show reserves its most incisive cuts not for politicians of either party, but for the media itself.

5:01 PM  

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