Proving Jon Stewart Right

Although the Daily Show has taken great delight in lampooning our political class, over the years, Jon Stewart’s most frequent targets have been the American media.

In fact, the Daily Show could be considered one longstanding reproach to an American media that focuses on celebrity and “infotainment” at the expense of what used to be called the “news of verification”–a media that repeatedly fails to provide the sort of investigative reporting on government, business and social institutions that we need in order to be informed citizens in an increasingly complex world.

To take just one example, America has recently experienced a series of highly problematic incidents in which police have killed unarmed citizens. Those incidents–several of which have been captured on the cell phones of witnesses–have led to protests and civil unrest.  Given their frequency, and the amount of discord generated, it would be reasonable to expect an investigative series separating fact from fiction and rumor: the number of people killed by police in a given period of time, the demographics of communities where such tragedies occur, perhaps even comparing the American experience to that of other Western democratic countries.

Instead of that reporting, we’ve gotten pundits and “commentators” accusing or defending police actions, based upon their particular ideological positions.

It has taken the Guardian–the excellent British newspaper that regularly offers more information about the U.S. than most American news outlets, to do the hard reporting. The Guardian has produced a database showing, month by month, the number of people killed by police, the manner of the death (gunshot, taser, etc.) and where that killing occurred.

No punditry. No spin. No hysterical accusations or indignant defenses. Just raw data. This is what happened, this is where and this is when. A basis for discussion.

People can draw very different conclusions from a given fact situation. But in the absence of those hard facts, we are left with conjecture and ideology and hyperbole. In order to have anything approaching reasoned debate about solutions to our common problems, we need to begin with verifiable facts–and we depend upon the media to provide those facts.

The First Amendment’s Freedom of the Press was a recognition of the importance of that media role. We didn’t protect the media from government interference so that reporters could parrot party lines or hype the newest “in” bar.

The Guardian is evidence that journalism is still possible. In this case, the data was clearly available–but to the best of my knowledge, no American outlet compiled it.

Perhaps American media should focus less on things like Kim Kardashian’s ass and more on that quaint thing called actual news.

I’m sure Jon Stewart wouldn’t mind.


  1. ¿How would the oligarchs then continue to succeed with the dumbing down of Indiana without the distraction of Kim Kardashian?

  2. I totally agree; but there are times when the media demands too much access and releases too much information too early – especially regarding crimes. Freedom of the press plus the Freedom of Information Act gives them access to investigative information from authorities that should NOT immediately be made public as it interferes with prosecution in many cases. Sensationalism and “getting the scoop” is their aim; now they have all of those videos from cell phones to base reporting on. Moving the Richmond Hills deplorable crime from Marion County is a good example; was it all of the evidence released through the media or one comment by the defense attorney that resulted in excusing the entire jury pool from the trial yesterday? The fact that the defendant had earlier been accused of attempting to hire someone to kill a witness had been in the news months ago. Did the defense attorney do this deliberately? This crime was so massive that moving it to another country will have little effect on selecting a jury.

    The 3 years of bombardment by the media of the David Bisard case probably caused the three year delay in prosecution. It took his 2nd drunk driving accident – luckily for the criminal justice system it happened in another county because it finally got him off our streets and was quickly moved forward to trial.

    We have a right to public information; sometimes it is the time element regarding releasing information to the public that is the issue. Too often too much evidence is released by the media prior to arrest and/or trials; giving criminals and their defence attorneys the opportunity to request a change of venue. It also brings phoney “witnesses” out of the woodwork to hamper investigation. One of the worst cases of freedom of the press intruding into a criminal case was the successful action by the media and their attorneys to obtain autopsy results in the Adam Walsh case years after his murder. Only that little boy’s head was found in an alligator infested canal; what could they hope to learn or to report to the public? Sensationalism and the reporter’s 15 minutes of fame.

  3. I have a quote somewhere by Gore Vidal: It goes to the effect that we don’t have free speech or a free press in the US because, if we did, we would know what the oligarchy was really up to. Vidal’s family was a part of that oligarchy. He knew what he was talking about.

    So, now we’re sitting on a racial powder keg and we don’t even know when it is going to blow. Credit the Koch Brothers when it does.

  4. Sorry, Sheila, I had to stop reading when I saw a news flash about a Denver Broncos player who gets fined because he farts during team meetings. Now, what were you talking about?

  5. Another huge problem is that organizations like FAIR and Amnesty International US will not come to the aid of someone in the US who encounters retaliation for speaking out on the activities of the oligarchy. Especially, if it involves race.

    There is no whistleblower protection whatsoever covering this type of activity. I know this to be a fact from multiple personal experiences.

    You pay a big price for “speaking truth to power” in the US.” Most people are not in a position to take the “shot.” The Guardian reporters are able to speak out because they are protected by powerful forces in their own country.

  6. News services have now become outlets of biased commentators. The 4th Estate has now become an estate with a view of the weeds – pop culture and sales, with fewer investigative journalists.

  7. Wow, that link to the database! That is some serious journalism. Too bad it came from the UK. I’m dumbfounded.

  8. I opined the other day that most of the media that we invite into our home includes only sufficient content to maintain our attention for the advertisements. Not really an opinion as much as knowledge about the nature of business.

    Given that, how much content would say a TV network invest in? And what kind would best maintain our attention between commercials? And what would be most efficient at maintaining attention with mimimal time/space, the currency of media business?

    Not the reporting of facts.

    As our culture has absorbed this attention holding content we’ve become easier prey. We all suffer from shiney object or SQUIRREL! syndrome. We are all more and more tolerant of endless commercials and ad space.

    Think of what has developed as the least costly to produce, most effective attention holding content for filling the non-income generating space between commercials. “Reality” TV.

    In fact if one looks closely at media business models what we consider content they consider “waste”. Non income generating byproducts of the real product, income generating business – commercials.

    Business runs by the one rule – make more money regardless of the cost to others – where cost to others is broadly defined in many ways other than money. We invite this force into our living rooms.

    Energy and entertainment. Two huge forces in civilization that we consider cheap when measured only monetarily. But with expensive, almost unaffordable consequences. Both under the control of institutions and people sworn to ignore everything external to themselves, and internal also except for currency.

    What, are we nuts???

  9. I am a long time reader of the Guardian. It is my home page. It is remarkable how much depth the paper has on US News. As a contrast I looked at the Star today, the News Section. Top Story Eight places to get free doughnuts on National Doughnut Day. Big news for the Mega-Media this past week was Bruce Jenners coming out party.

    The phrase Media Circus has long history. At least in Modern Times we had the Scopes Trial, the Lindbergh Kidnapping to start the 20 Century off. Recent history had the non-stop reporting on the OJ Simpson chase, arrest and trial. Remember Jon Benet, and Richard Jewell?? Remember Chandra Levy in 2001?? A very sad case to be sure. It had the added “spice” for the Mega-Media of an attractive woman linked to having an alleged affair with a Congressman, 24/7 news coverage until 9/11.

    Now the Mega-Media Circus has expanded it’s tent and we have “News” Organizations pandering to what their audience wants to hear vs what should be honestly reported and investigated. A few years ago we had a massive oil spill in Gulf 24/7 coverage for a while. Is the Gulf Cleaned up is it recovering?? The Mega-Media has moved on.

  10. @Pete

    What, are we nuts????

    I apologize to everyone.

    We’re really not nuts, yet. We’re more like the characters in H.G. Wells (1904,1939) book entitled “Country of the Blind” where the one-eyed man is King.

    Sheila, maybe it should be assigned reading in every civic course in the US. Indiana?

    In the revised 1939 edition, Nunez the central character who is the only person that can see out of both eyes attempts to warn the inhabitants of the village (where the one-eyed man is King) that a fatal rock slide is about to happen. But they scoffed at his IMAGINED sight. And, as you can guess, the village was destroyed.

  11. Another point on the Guardian Newspaper. The Guardian was with out a doubt the leading paper and source for the Edward Snowden revelations on the Security Establishment Spying. Glenn Greenwald was a columnist along with others broke the NSA Spying story for the Guardian. This was the Pentagon Papers of our time.

    Our Mega-Media Press seems totally content to allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Deal-Scheme to be a secret not only from the American people but also from our elected representatives. “[They] can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it,” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren on her blog.

    So who do you go to for any details on the TPP. Well not the New York Times, Forbes, CNN, MSNBC, or Fox, but – Wiki-Leaks. Wikileaks has already released three chapters of the TPP. Wiki Leaks is offering $100,000 for 26 chapters of the TPP. “The transparency clock has run out on the TPP. No more secrecy. No more excuses. “Let’s open the TPP once and for all,” declared Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

  12. I have often used the phrase “in the valley of the blind the one eyed man is king”. I never thought of its source. I guess a consequence of being relatively il-liturate.

    Sometimes I might come across as anti-business which I am not. I just think that it’s wise to understand its limitations which to me can be summarized by ” make more money regardless of the cost to others” because that captures its major limitations. Today it only measures money and only considers internal costs.

    Business of course must go on. Capitalism still seems like the best economic system for markets in which competition can be maintained. Our one tool for forcing the consideration of external and non monetary costs on it, regulation, seems adequate to the task as long as we can maintain a functional democracy.

    Business of course is simplified if it has no considerations of external and non monetary problems imposed on it so functional government for at least the more simple minded business people seems like something to be avoided.

    Yesterday I talked about spending 40 years living inside the vision of one of the more respected American businessmen, George Eastman. He clearly didn’t need government regulation to consider external and non monetary cost/benefit and that was the reason for his success. And Rochester’s success. And my success.

    A symptom of our current malaise in business is the move from visionaries to MBAs running the business show. Businesses run only by internal numbers are like planes without instruments and experienced pilots flying IFR, essentially blind. The valley of the blind. The crash is a foregone conclusion.

    Much of life is making mistakes and learning from them. We have a lot to learn from today.

  13. @Pete

    I think you’ve “hit the nail on the head for me” as to what’s been going wrong for Jacksonville the past 20 years. It’s being run by an oligarch with an MBA from Wharton who moved to Jacksonville to run the Super Bowl.

    A real estate developer who has no democratic values whatsoever. They’ve been turned upside down.

  14. My husband and I returned a few days ago from an 8-day vacation in London, my 4th stay in London, and Sheila’s on target with focusing on the level of journalistic integrity as presented by the Guardian. Straight news reporting is now a scarcity in the US.

    What currently passes for news reporting in the US should be relegated to the op/ed page. Perhaps we’ve accepted the soft bigotry of low expectations by our allowing our US media outlets to add commentary, bias, slant to each piece of news reporting with the underlying implication that we’re simply too dumb to read a straight news story and arrive at our own conclusions without commentary from a plastic person explaining their words and ultimately telling us what to believe.

    I learned more straight global news from my Brit taxi driver from Heathrow to our hotel than I’d ever receive from any US news anchorman or anchorwoman.

  15. The Indianapolis Star, owned by Gannett, has become a delivery container for the sample copy (Reader’s Digest version) of USA Today – also owned by Gannett. The sports section(s) appears to be the most in-depth news reported. That added (s) is due to the additional separate sections regarading the Indianapolis Colts – and the 500 Mile Race in May…these ARE sports! I will again harp on my personal displeasure (disgruntled is a better word) about obituaries being published in the Saturday Star, Things To Do section. Attending a wake/viewing or funeral is NOT a local entertainment option. Still, as I mentioned months ago, that is better than the one time I finally found obituaries in the Sports Section.

    Front page article today, “Indy Pride gets boost from RFRA fight” – I don’t think so. Pence’s flimsy “welcome” letter and one billboard proclaiming “Indy Welcomes All” will not undo the damage done by Pence just weeks ago which garnered ugly national attention for the entire state of Indiana. I can only question the reasoning for selecting Ballard as Grand Marshall of the Gay Pride parade; I don’t remember him stepping forward to support LGBTs in the past. Was this action to put him in the position of “putting his money where his mouth is”?

  16. My approach as an attorney for local government has been to be open and forthcoming with the local media and trust them to be responsible with reporting the information fairly and in a manner that balances the public’s need/right to know with the concerns of the subjects of the reporting. That’s worked out very well with my concerns in particular and reasonably well with Tippecanoe County reporting in general.

    Where things have struck me as being reported in a somewhat irresponsible manner, I generally have gotten the sense that it has been the product of pressure from higher up at Gannet.

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