(This week The Curmudgeon is taking a look at the myth of the liberal media. On Monday he outlined what the issue is and looked at the degree to which newspapers and newspaper columnists are or are not biased toward the liberal perspective. On Tuesday he looked at newspaper endorsements and magazines. On Wednesday he considered television news and what he calls “opinion television.” Yesterday was devoted to talk radio and web sites. Today he concludes by looking at what he considers a special situation and offers a brief conclusion.)
A Special Category
If there’s one semi-legitimate beef the right might have about the media it’s the accidental success and phenomenon of Jon Stewart and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Colbert, with their former Comedy Central programs.
But you have to look at intent here. The Daily Show is on Comedy Central, a third-tier cable network “distinguished” by such swill as South Park and The Man Show and roasts of C-list “celebrities.” Comedy Central’s agenda is to make money by being funny and it has tried a lot of things to be funny over the years; some have been more successful than others. The original host of The Daily Show was Craig Kilborn, a former ESPN jock announcer whose comedy style might best be described as “snarky.” The show was moderately successful but Kilborn got a better offer from CBS to follow David Letterman and only then did Jon Stewart join the network. At first Stewart’s show was no more successful, but after The Daily Show’s commentaries on the stolen presidential election of 2000 and then the aftermath of the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001 Stewart somehow was elevated to a respected figure and the show’s popularity rose, as did his influence: the direct role in played in the cancellation of CNN’s Crossfire was an amazing exercise in influence. He had a strong supporting cast, more so in the beginning than in the later years, and the best of those supporters, Stephen Colbert, was given his own program on which he did essentially the same thing in a different way.
There is no evidence – not a hint – to suggest that someone set out to make a liberal comedy show and ended up producing The Daily Show. No, it was an attempt to be funny that stumbled along for a few years until it hit its stride. What some people forget, moreover, is that Fox News tried to create its own version of The Daily Show and failed. It introduced its 1/2 Hour News Hour in 2007 and the program was quickly found guilty of the biggest sin a comedy program can commit: it wasn’t funny. People didn’t watch and it was canceled after only 15 episodes. Does this mean conservatives aren’t funny? Of course not. Does it mean liberals conspired to bring about the program’s failure? Of course not. The first rule of comedy is to be funny, Stewart and Colbert were and the Fox News crew wasn’t, and that’s all there is to it. It’s unfortunate for conservatives but Stewart and Colbert are in no way part of “the media,” to be sure, but they were very, very influential. They’re both gone now, though, and you don’t hear much about their successors, do you? And do you know why? It’s simple: they’re not as funny, and that’s what matters – both to the network that airs them and to the people who choose to watch or not watch them.
So where is this liberal bias in the media that those on the wrong end of the public discourse like to point to? Maybe it’s hiding in plain view, but The Curmudgeon, for one, can’t find it.
In fact, it looks like it’s the other way around: the conservative media appears to overwhelm the liberal media in the areas that arguably matter most: newspaper columns, newspaper endorsements, opinion television, and talk radio.
And when you think about it, who are the people doing all the complaining about the media?
It’ll come to you.
Ah, there it is.
The people who complain the most about the media are…Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, and O’Reilly. The very people who have the most influence are complaining about anything they don’t themselves influence or with which they disagree.
It is, in other words, the media complaining about the media – and the conservative media complaining about the very media it dominates.
And its complaints are just plain unfounded.