Don't make media the national scapegoat

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Please allow me to introduce myself: I'm a newspaper columnist. I work for a rapidly disappearing institution called the American newspaper.

A newspaper, for those who may have forgotten already, is that ink-smeared, rolled-up hunk of tree pulp that used to land on your porch every morning.

I'm part of a cabal of un-American scoundrels known as [cue the sinister music] "The Media." This includes network news, 24-hour cable news, magazines, websites and blogs. Sometimes we're called the Fourth Estate.

Despite the fact that we are one of the pillars of American democracy, it has come to our attention that we're not very popular with any segment of the population these days. How do we know this? People yawn at our travails. You don't care that what we do is sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution and that our mission is enshrined in the First Amendment. You hate our guts.

When we're not physically detained by thugs working for conservative Alaskan senatorial candidates or threatened with assault by New York gubernatorial hopefuls, we're being called "corrupt bastards" by Sarah Palin on national television. Everyone applauds if a candidate refuses to answer a reporter's "impertinent" question.

Liberals don't necessarily have a higher regard for us. We're called establishment stooges, prostitutes and lapdogs by those who consider the status quo an irredeemable horror. We're blamed for our inability to inform and educate an inattentive public about how it is being robbed blind by corporate rulers.

Admittedly, an uncomfortably high percentage of those at the top of our profession are a little too invested in the system and its players. We are also not very diverse in terms of class background, race or ideology. This may account for a striking unanimity of opinion and perspective in what Ms. Palin calls "the lame-stream media."

Over the weekend, Jon Stewart, patron saint of ironic cool, told an estimated 200,000 admirers at the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" in Washington that it was the fault of Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly that America is too angry to function as a 234-year-old democracy should.

Sure, dastardly politicians do their best to polarize the electorate for narrowly partisan gain, but that's to be expected. The real villain, according to Mr. Stewart, is the brain-sucking media, especially evil-doers on cable who give the bad guys a platform with which to fill the public's otherwise beautiful mind with triviality and lies.

During the rally, Mr. Stewart broadcast a montage of dueling talking heads from MSNBC and Fox that was intended to show a moral equivalence between the two that only an idiot would take at face value.

Without making any distinction between the commentators, Jon Stewart made an argument that is ridiculous to anyone who actually chooses to watch, say, MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" over Fox's "Hannity." Political ideas and philosophies have real-world implications. Presenting them as morally equivalent is the height of shallowness when the fate of great initiatives like health care reform or comprehensive climate change legislation are at stake.

In a blissfully ahistorical way that only a comedian -- or a columnist -- can engage in without shame, Mr. Stewart indicted cable news, and by extension the rest of "Big Media," for instigating fights in the school yard of American democracy. If only Ed Schultz, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck would tone it down, America could get back to the business of being a light unto the rest of the world, he would have us believe.

"The country's 24-hour, political pundit, perpetual, panic [machine] did not cause our problems," Mr. Stewart conceded in his show-ending speech. "But its existence makes solving them that much harder. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."

It isn't as if America had any problems before cable news came along, right? It isn't as if the media are merely broadcasting arguments Americans have been having since the days of the Federalists vs. the anti-Federalists in colonial Philadelphia.

As much as Mr. Stewart obviously dislikes Mr. Olbermann's schtick, he's closer to the spirit of the over-the-top pamphleteer and honorary Founding Father Thomas Paine than any of his antagonists at Fox.

Mr. Stewart's self-congratulatory piety and overweening sense of importance left me cold by the program's end. It's always embarrassing whenever a liberal pretends to be a raging moderate. It's like watching a bad Jason Altmire commercial.

But what do I know? I'm just a member of the brain-sucking media.

Tony Norman: or 412-263-1631.


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