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A Fake News Sensibility

May
11
2006

A few months ago, I joked that Jon Stewart should follow the habit of the pretentious “real” TV shows and offer transcripts. Earlier this week, I decided that wasn’t so funny after all. Stewart’s not consistent, and he’s often not as humorous as he (or his somewhat rabid audience) thinks he is, but those are minor failings on an interview show. When he gives a damn, it shows.

As a result, he regularly does something that almost no one else on TV does: He gets to the heart of the matter. Watching him rag on Sen. John McCain for giving a speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University was pretty good TV. A few days ago, he did it again, in a discussion about the state of the news business with New Yorker editor David Reminck.

Now, nothing said in this conversation would come as a surprise to regular news junkies or even sensible, politically sentient Americans. But that’s exactly why it bears repeating. When editors and reporters like David Remnick talk about it being easier to cover Russia than the White House, we as an open society have decided to duck out on one of the basic precepts that forms our government. What he’s saying – nicely – is that many people in Washington are afraid to talk about their government and what they and it do.

But Remnick also has a few words that ought to be heeded by my compadres here on-line; the folks who call themselves “media.” His observations – reporters are not given to self-organization, the news business is competitive and reporting and stenography as separate undertakings are welcome. Aping the behavior of TV pundits is not journalism. It is, as Remnick says, theater. Good, solidly grounded political commentary isn’t about us, guys, it’s not about the press room, it’s not about the briefings, it’s about the stories. Anyway, after the jump an edited version of their brief chat.

Stewart: Is reporting, for you, more difficult in this era? this administration? or just government or corporations in general, are they a little bit ahead of the game?

Remnick: Well, I think in Washington, it’s more and more difficult. It’s really hard, which is why a lot of those pieces [from Reminck's new book, Reporting] are in very democratic places like Russia. I find it incredibly easy, by comparison, to report abroad. Washington is really hard.

Stewart: Harder than Russia?

Remnick: Oh, yeah. To get access within Washington for any of our reporters at the New Yorker is tough going. Sy Hersh who writes for us, a great investigative reporter – I don’t think he’s been to the White House press room in a year. There are no stories there. There’s this kind of play that gets enacted every day, these White House briefings. And honest reporters go there every day and they do the best they can, which is very tough going.

Stewart: So, when will that show close? Cats had 15 years. It’s just theater…I know the media is not a Borg, it’s not one organism…

Remnick: Yeah. There are people who are good, people who sit through that ritual every day. They don’t get their stories there but they sit though it and they do the best they can to get access. The real reporting goes on before and after that…someone like Sy Hersch is on the phone, meeting people in odd places and privately. Briefing rooms are not a place for real journalism, especially print journalism…

Stewart: Why can’t the media push back?

Remnick: They can. It just takes the will to do it. People do do it. Look, journalists are independent and they are competitive with each other. The idea that they’re going to join together and act like a union or something like that – that’s never going to happen and I don’t think it’s a very good….But individual journalists can be very tough and also there are news organizations and magazines that just have to have the gumption to do it. The last set of Pulitzer Prizes, I thought, was really encouraging. The Washington Post, the New York Times – they won for really agressive stuff, like NSA spying and secret prisons.

Stewart: There’s great stuff out there.

Remnick: You just got to go and get it.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 3:07 PM | Permalink

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