Faux Author Fakes Outrage Over Phony News. Fictitious Film At Eleven
It’s Sitcom Day here at World O’ Crap (more on that in a later post), and first up is Jonah Goldberg in the runaway smash comedy, Make Room For Flabby! In tonight’s episode, Jonah runs out of toilet paper and is forced to repurpose a page of the Los Angeles Times, leading to a wacky misunderstanding when the results are accidentally printed in the Op-Ed section! Let’s watch…
‘Pat Philbin, the man who staged a fake FEMA news conference on the California wildfires last week, has lost his promotion because of the event, which begs the question: What does it actually take to get fired from FEMA?” That was the lead story on the latest installment of Weekend Update, the faux news broadcast on “Saturday Night Live.”
Something bothered me about this, and not just Amy Poehler’s misuse of the phrase “beg the question.”
It’s mostly just her use of the word “beg,” which tends to trigger flashbacks in Jonah to his high school prom night, an occasion later immortalized in the movie, There’s Something About Mary.
Nor was it the idea that FEMA’s staged news conference was scandalous simply because reporters, listening by phone, weren’t able to ask questions while FEMA bureaucrats lobbed “fake” questions. There’s no such thing as fake questions
Just ask Jeff Gannon. (“No, no, I’m genuinely interested: how long do you suppose it would be if you’d kept the foreskin?”)
…only fake answers. Was FEMA’s fabrication any more fraudulent than, say, press releases written like real news stories?
It’s important to remember that this would have constituted fraud only if they had tried to pass off the event as an actual press conference. If, for instance, it had been carried live by various TV networks, or if the guy at the podium acted as though he was answering queries from the media and not his own staffers, or if the FEMA employees asking the questions pretended they were reporters and not political appointees pitching softballs at their boss. But what most people don’t realize is that this wasn’t an attempt to escape accountability by deceiving the public, it was a team-building exercise. Deputy FEMA administrator Harvey Johnson and his subordinates were just taking a brief vacation from the disastrous California wildfires to attend Press Conference Fantasy Camp – a tough but exhilarating three day experience that gives the average person a once in a lifetime chance to really get a feel for what it’s like to be Ron Ziegler.
Or take Stephen Colbert, host of a fake cable news show, “The Colbert Report,” itself a spinoff from the fake newscast “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Colbert was recently a guest on “Meet the Press” — the Thunderdome of real news — as he was trying to mount a bogus campaign for president (abandoned Monday). Colbert stayed in character. So did Tim Russert, grilling Colbert as if he were a real candidate, of sorts.
The exchange vexed Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor ofTime.com, who rightly ridiculed the stunt as “painfully so-ironic-it-was-unironic.” Cox has a good ear for such things: Her own meteoric rise started with her tenure as the founding Wonkette blogger, where she mocked newsmakers the way robots mocked bad movies on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Except with 100% more butt-sex than MST3K.
Cox sized up the Colbert-Russert show as cringe-worthy — bad journalism because it was bad entertainment.
No, it was simply bad entertainment, unless you consider it news that Tim Russert has the quick wit and comic timing of your average boozed-up heckler at the Funnybone. Bad journalism, on the other hand, pretty much has to be taken as entertainment, since it not only fails to provide what it purports to — information — but actually succeeds in dispensing the opposite. So either the smug yet furious blowhard you see on “The O’Reilly Factor” is a comic persona like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton character, or he’s a grotesque whipped up by the sideshown performers in Freaks after they finished with Olga Baclanova. Either way, he’s pretty damn funny.
Indeed, while the network news broadcasts are sustained by the consumers of denture cream, adult diapers and pharmacological marital aides, it’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” that have a grip on the hip, iPhone crowd. And plenty of those younger viewers seem to believe that they can deduce what’s going on in the real world from jokes on a fake newscast. It’s no longer funny because it’s true. It’s true because it’s funny.
The obvious solution is to read Jonah’s column, which isn’t true and isn’t funny.
Now that’s begging the question.
Case in point. (For this joke to work, by the way, you need to imagine that peppy music they always played at the end of a Love American Style vignette, when Gary Collins and Mary Ann Mobley would figure out it was all just a big misunderstanding, and then we’d go to a 60 second pantomime bit on a beach with Stuart Margolin and Carla Borelli, just before we cut to the commercial for Pillsbury Space Food Sticks.)
The problem of parsing fact from fiction, news from entertainment, has been inherent to broadcast journalism from the beginning. Radio newsman Walter Winchell got his start in vaudeville.
Of course, Winchell was primarily a gossip columnist, when he wasn’t busy egging on Joe McCarthy, and his contributions to hard news are roughly equivalent to those of his contemporary, J. Fred Muggs, except the chimp was less of a shameless red-baiter.
But in the modern era, I blame “Murphy Brown,” the show about a fictional TV newswoman who talked about real newsmakers as if they were characters on her sitcom. When Brown had a baby out of wedlock, Vice President Dan Quayle criticized the writers of the show. Liberals then reacted as though Quayle had insulted a real person.
Whenever Jonah gets his facts exactly backwards, I often waste time trying to decide if he’s lazy, ignorant, or a liar, before I calm down and remember that, as Jonah comes from a cube-shaped world whose inhabitants butcher personal pronouns, this is really more of a diversity issue. In our culture, of course, liberals laughed at Dan Quayle for attacking a fictional character as though it were a real person (if Dan were still around today, I can imagine the finger-wagging denunciations: “Hester Prynne is a bigger threat to the stability of the two-parent family than homosexual marriage!”).
Ever since, journalists and politicians have been playing themselves in movies and TV series, perhaps trying to disprove the cliche that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.
Or we could simply prove the cliche by casting the entire NRO Corner staff in the next season of Big Brother.
Posted by scott on Tuesday, November 6th, 2007 at 10:19 pm.
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