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What Battered Newsrooms Can Learn From Stewart's CNBC Takedown

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The most talked-about journalism of this week wasn't produced in the New York Times, CNN, Newsweek or NPR. It was Jon Stewart's epic, eight-minute takedown on Wednesday night's Daily Show of CNBC's clueless, in-the-tank reporting of inflatable bubbles and blowhard CEOs as the U.S. and world economies slowly slid into a meltdown. You can quibble about Stewart's motives in undertaking the piece -- after he was spurned for an interview by CNBC's faux populist ranter Rick Santelli -- but you can't argue with the results.

The piece wasn't just the laugh-out-loud funniest thing on TV all week (and this was a week in which NBC rebroadcast the SNL "more cowbell" sketch, so that's saying a lot) but it was exquisitely reported, insightful, and it tapped into America's real anger about the financial crisis in a way that mainstream journalism has found so elusive all these months, in a time when we all need to be tearing down myths. As one commenter on the Romenesko blog noted, "it's simply pathetic that one has to watch a comedy show to see things like this."

But that's not all. The Stewart piece also got the kind of eyeballs that most newsrooms would kill for in this digital age -- planted atop many, many major political, media and business Web sites -- and the kind of water-cooler chatter that journalists would crave in any age. In a time when newspapers are flat-out dying if not dealing with bankruptcy or massive job losses, while other types of news orgs aren't faring much better, the journalistic success of a comedy show rant shouldn't be viewed as a stick in the eye -- but a teachable moment. Why be a curmudgeon about kids today getting all their news from a comedy show, when it's not really that hard to join Stewart in his own idol-smashing game?

Here's how:

1) Great research trumps good access to the powerful: The Stewart piece makes this controversial but critical point in two different ways. For one thing, the story shows how access to the nation's most powerful CEOs -- supposedly the big advantage of a journalistic enterprise like CNBC -- isn't worth a warm bucket of spit when it results in slo-pitch softball questions, for fear of offending the rich and powerful. And so we see Ford's CEO grilled about Kid Rock's performance at the auto show, Ponzi scammer (later revealed) Alan Stanford quizzed on whether it's fun to be a billionaire, and Maria "Money Honey" Bartiromo gushing at how corporate chiefs were still telling her that their companies were doing great, even as the massive iceberg was casting its shadow over the hull of the American economy.

Jon Stewart's act of journalism -- reported, of course, by his ace team of writers -- worked because there were no interviews at all. It all hung instead on meticulous research, dredging up lethal quips of CNBC's stock pumping hosts to hang them with their own undeniable words -- Jim Cramer's "buy buy buy" when the Dow was roughly double what it is today, his touting of Bear Stearns' and Bank of America's doomed stocks. The kind of research that's so hard for most newspapers to do anymore, with downsized staffs and ever-looming deadlines, but which can so often belies the spin from our "accessible" sources.

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2) The American public is mad as hell right now, so why isn't the mainstream media? Balanced reporting is important, but a balanced, modulated tone of voice? Not now, not when millions are hurting from lost jobs and under-water mortgages, and many millions more are living in fear of the same fate. People need information but what they so desperately want an outlet that shares their passion -- and, yes, that rage -- and so Jon Stewart gave people what they weren't getting anywhere else.

3) Tear down this wall... of pretending that the media itself isn't a major player in American society, and isn't a factor in most big stories. Sure, there were greedy bankers and their pocketed politicians working in unintended tandem to take the Dow from 14,000 down to 6,600, but these popular TV pundits were there every step of the way, as The Daily Show revealed, and their contribution was consequential. Mainstream media, after all these years, has a hard time understanding that one of the major political forces in this country is mainstream media, something the audience knows all too well.

4) The First Amendment doesn't say anything about not being funny, or not being passionate. I don't know about you, if you actually watched the piece, but I feel like I learned something important -- confirming the cheerleading nature of the nation's most-watched source for business news, even in a moment of oncoming disaster -- but I also busted my gut laughing as I did. And there's nothing wrong with that, informing and entertaining at the same time -- isn't that what newspapers are charging people 75 cents for?.

You know, sometimes people do some crazy stuff when they realize their days are numbered. I don't have the answers to problems facing American journalism -- not my own newsroom, mired in Chapter 11, nor the others that face a possible death sentence. But fighting for life will mean living each day like it was your last, with passion, anger and laughter, the way The Daily Show shined a light on a crevice of the nation's battered economy on Wednesday night.

View Jon Stewart's CNBC Video here.

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Original article: here 


Will Bunch is author of the new "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future", published by Free Press, which examines the calculated effort by the modern right wing to canonize the 40th president, and (more...)

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long ago gave up the goal of informing the public.... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 8:01:05 AM
Just like the media, they too are one of the ... by Richard Mynick on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 3:50:52 PM
Had I been discussing the deficiencies of the Demo... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 4:56:15 PM
is unrelated to the corporate control of both part... by Richard Mynick on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 6:45:28 PM
Excellent rebuttal.  I suppose Mr Sanchez sti... by jersey girl on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 8:08:33 PM
that you don't drop your pom poms in your exci... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 8:15:07 PM
unless you refer to a case where abysmal gove... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 8:11:49 PM
a major step in the consolidation of media ownersh... by Richard Mynick on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 12:25:52 PM
I have heard that said, but even when he was in of... by John Sanchez Jr. on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 4:23:08 PM
I don't see Bill Clinton's administration ... by John Sanchez Jr. on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 4:32:54 PM
Lest we forget - the media is nothing more than co... by Dennis Kaiser on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 8:20:26 AM
Will, You are a gem and your words reflect it! &nb... by sometimes blinded on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 10:42:05 AM
the video is priceless; unlike the "advice&qu... by Better World Order on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 11:48:07 AM
For those who don't know better, Stewart might be ... by Arktig Silver on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 5:01:20 PM
Ok, here's your chance.  Put together the... by Amanda Lang on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 6:38:23 PM
It's all on the internet. I'll tell you only that ... by Arktig Silver on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 7:14:44 PM
Produce or politely concede that he errored time a... by Amanda Lang on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 9:56:51 PM
It's all there. I'm sorry, but I can't hold your h... by Arktig Silver on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 10:28:18 AM
And thanks for putting the spotllight on Jon Stewa... by Meryl Ann Butler on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 1:47:33 PM
It seems that the only place the truth is permitte... by arlen custer on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 3:04:40 PM
practically a fountain of Truth.In a sense, cartoo... by Richard Mynick on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 3:58:06 PM
The jester, in ancient tradition, was kept around ... by Jennifer Hathaway on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 4:44:38 PM
The networks have nothing to learn - --  they... by Gustav Wynn on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 4:49:46 PM
..."media" relies on "advertising&q... by waldopaper on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 6:35:50 PM
Damn, if that cartoon doesn't sum it all up in a f... by jersey girl on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 8:12:36 PM
However, President Obama is the one who ok'd handi... by jersey girl on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 8:35:04 PM
Please share your plan for reconstituting the fail... by Amanda Lang on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 10:01:33 PM
Certainly not hand over billions which is really t... by jersey girl on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 9:39:47 AM
Try thinking about this. No money! We don't ne... by arlen custer on Monday, Mar 9, 2009 at 9:24:54 AM
And hope that the disease that infected the Philly... by Patrick Lafferty on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 9:13:17 PM
Did you know President Obama signed his stimulus p... by Patrick Lafferty on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 9:25:17 PM
And Bush propagated lies and signed us up for two ... by Yuma Michaels on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 9:52:27 PM
In his book 71 DAYS:  THE MEDIA ASSAULT ON OB... by Yuma Michaels on Saturday, Mar 7, 2009 at 9:40:04 PM
People laugh at truths when it is presen... by pft on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 3:11:42 AM
Considering the stunning ramifications of a media ... by Michael McCoy on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 4:08:45 AM
The eight minutes of John Stewart was worth 24/7 o... by Jason Paz on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 5:10:21 AM
What are you talking about? This is a media push. ... by Arktig Silver on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 10:36:37 AM
if you watched the end of the show it had Cramer s... by pft on Sunday, Mar 8, 2009 at 8:50:40 PM
There are benefits that accrue from this situation... by John Ulotti on Monday, Mar 9, 2009 at 12:18:32 PM