I’ve come late to the Jon Stewart fan club. In fact, I’ve never watched more than a few seconds of his show when one of my teenaged kids has it on. It’s not that I’ve not liked him, but it has to be pretty special programming for me to sit in front of the tube – maybe, say, a meaningless baseball game or a women’s pool tournament.
But after hearing him last night interviewed by Ted Koppel, I think I’ll start watching The Daily Show. I’ve heard a couple of interviews of him during the convention, but last night he put Koppel in his place with a biting indictment of the mainstream press. (I’ll post the relevant transcript once Lexis-Nexis has it.) Koppel’s main story was about the plethora of media attending the convention and their tendency to be perceived as presenting a point of view. When asked how things could improve, Stewart presented a perfect hypothetical case about two spokespersons from competing viewpoints who are allowed to present – unchallenged – their spin. Stewart said Koppel and others need to challenge points that are wrong, false or incomplete.
No better example was when Ralph Reed, a Republican operative (that minimizes his role but I’m not sure of his title; basically, he runs the Republican’s southern strategy and is former head of the Christian Coalition), was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer and Co. on CNN immediately following John Edwards’s speech. Reed was allow to call John Kerry “the most liberal senator” who votes against weapons systems and intelligence programs and that he had voted for higher taxes 350 times over his career.
“You can’t serve in the U.S. Senate for 19 years, vote for higher taxes 350 times, advocate $7.4 billion in intelligence cuts one year after the first World Trade Center attack and not have your opposition talk about it,” Reed said
But Blitzer and Nancy Woodruff never challenged Reed.
The same is true about the flip-flopping. The charge is relentlessly repeated by the media. Why? Because the GOP says so. They make the claim so often that the media simply repeats it to get the same reaction. But by doing so the media reinforce it. In fact, on a recent “Meet the Press,” host Tim Russert (one of the most overrated journalists) asked of his guest journalists, “Is this campaign going to be one about who’s the biggest flip-flopper?”
Bush has flipped and flopped on many issues, but the media never cites these flip-flops to reveal the bogus nature of the claim. Any politician with a record has changed votes on certain issues or would appear so depending how you characterize the issue. Reporter and author Joe Klein said last night that Kerry is having a tough time of addressing the $87 billion flip flop when he voted for it before he voted against it. Klein pretended not to know how to address it but then gave what I thought was a pretty good start to a response. He said Kerry should say it was a protest vote because of the way Bush was handling the war. What Kerry should say is that it was a protest vote because Bush wouldn’t pay for the extra $87 billion by cutting other programs or rescinding his tax cuts. What’s wrong with saying that?
While the Democrats are trying to be positive (and I hope not positively boring or timid to many), the media will continue to look for conflict and is willing to regurgitate any charge to that end. They might say it reflects today’s politics Maybe so. But I was struck while watching an hour or so of talking heads. They belonged to Bob Dole, Joe Biden, George Mitchell and David Gergen. They proved that disagreement can be cordial.