Return of the Fake News King
Comedian Jon Stewart will return to late night TV after a string of potential hosts failed to inspire audiences. Nostalgic Daily Show fans will be watching to see whether Stewart is as funny or sharp as he was and execs will be hoping to reverse the dwindling economic prospects of late shows.
A lot of readers likely have no interest in Stewart, but as politics professor Jon Askonas pointed out in his excellent article from 2022, the formula Stewart used helped in reshaping the media landscape into the one we know (and loathe) today. Wresting news from its context and deploying a “masterful use of archival video clips to reveal the hypocrisy of the chattering classes”, The Daily Show found that you “could bend it to your will and tell the story you wanted to tell.” Fake news, if you will.
In an interview with The Spectator, Professor Askonas replays how the dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine and the advent of abundant content required to fill 24-hr cable news broadcasts means that the game today is “having to sell content to audiences — rather than selling eyeballs to advertisers.” Though Stewart “fought a world of empty spin”, the model he pioneered is one that is familiar to today’s media consumer: “how to make money from a narrow rather than a mass audience, and how to harness massive amounts of cheap information and create something valuable on top of it.”
Apart from the standard news networks and their respective devotees, many people now take their news from aggregators, who curate headlines for readers. The selection may be chosen by algorithm or humans, but it can be a helpful way to filter things in or out, particularly if you only want sports news, entertainment news, or stories from abroad. While newspapers also operated like this to a degree (no one can report everything!), the “creating something valuable of masses of cheap information” has definitely fractured society’s shared narratives into silos catering to predefined worldviews.
Did you see the fascinating report of a London musician who livestreams his boogie-woogie public piano playing on YouTube? His channel has charm, for sure, with spontaneous performances bursting out of the strangers he encourages to join him. But he recently had an altercation with Chinese tourists* in London who objected to being in the background of his video. The piano player suggested that to wave a Chinese flag is to be communist and the tourists suggested that was racist. The entitled tourists insisted on having their way, and the piano man pointed out that this is his country and livestreaming in public is perfectly legal in the UK. Police were called and it was quite the spectacle.
Right-leaning Twitter types intoned that Chinese Communists were trying to bring their censorship regime to London. Perhaps the tourists were actually armed and handlers for a CCP official? It could be entirely true, I don’t know. These days, these hot takes all sound quite plausible and the assumption of CCP bullying could well be over the target. But I also found a post about the incident from a left-leaning tech blogger who had a more bemused take. He dismissed the whole thing as an example of the “aggressive culture” war, but his account supplied some helpful information, as the story was unfolding.
This story is not earth-shattering (well, not yet..) but it was one the examples I found from last week which illustrates the very thing we are up against when navigating the news environment. Sometimes the biases are obvious, including the facts selected to lead to a desired conclusion. If you care about a particular piece of news, read widely and take your time, knowing that most everyone will retreat to their priors and the more sensational, the better for business. But, let’s just say, the truth is still out there, you might just have to wade through a lot of words before you find it. But more likely, you will have to piece it together, like a puzzle.
Jon Stewart’s dream of showing the absurdities of the old style of news broadcasting may have splintered into lots of streams of “more authentic fanaticism”, as Askonas put it. “I am of Tucker”, “I am of Tapper”, is the cry today. Though we are assailed with images and words, selling us fear and worldviews, we don’t need to despair, we are of Christ! God is working his purposes out and feeding on the wisdom in his Word somehow always helps put the world’s chatter into perspective.
*I missed a report which identifies a couple of the Chinese tourists as having ties to the Communist Party. From the video, it is clear they have been made aware of the Achillie’s Heal of woke Westerners – play the racist card as soon as possible! Thankfully, Mr Piano Man is immune.
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