Jon Stewart: Media is Lazy, Sensationalist

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Media

But he doesn’t think they have a liberal agenda.

From Politico:

“”I think their bias is towards sensationalism and laziness. I wouldn’t say its towards a liberal agenda. It’s light fluff so it’s absolutely within the wheelhouse,” Stewart said. “”If your suggestion is that they’re restlessly partisan, then why haven’t they gone and backed away from [Rep. Anthony] Weiner?”

Or Bill Clinton…or Eliot Spitzer. The list goes on and on.

Listen, what the media loves the most is public, human frailty. On a whole, they live for that because that’s what we’ve demanded to see. So we’re all to blame with this.

So while it’s impossible to say who started it, as audience members we can all start ignoring the nonsense and try to focus on the issues. Because if not, the media will keep getting worse because it’ll become this never ending loop of perception-based reporting that only reinforces what we already think is the truth…because that’s what gets ratings…and that’s what advertisers want.

Just saying…


This entry was posted on Sunday, June 19th, 2011 and is filed under Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “Jon Stewart: Media is Lazy, Sensationalist”

  1. Simon Says:

    So as I understand it, the question is, if the media is so liberal, why haven’t they gone easy on Wiener, Spitzer et al. Well, the answer is they have! Most of the drive in the coverage has come from alternative media and blogs, and trad media—which can’t ignore the story entirely—has provided perfunctory coverage. The way to think about this isn’t to simply ask “did the MSM cover it,” it’s to compare how they treat analogous scandals involving Republicans. (Indeed, the AP infamously attempted to say Wiener was a Republican at one point in the story cycle.)

    If Stewart’s point was that the MSM’s first objective is to sell units rather than to carry water for the Democratic party, it would be hard to disagree. Similarly, it’s probably accurate to say that the media per se doesn’t have a Democratic agenda. The more accurate way to think of it is that the vast majority of journalists are liberals and use (consciously or otherwise) to advance the worldview of the individual journalists and the groupthink consensus that inevitably forms when you put a lot of people who think alike into a small space.

  2. Centerist Cynic Says:

    Media companies have one primary objective – profits. Some like Fox lean right others like MSNBC lean left. Others still try and maintain at least a pretext of unbiased reporting. At the end of the day it is about profits/ratings.

    Simon, it is easy to rely on studies where journalist self identify as liberals or conservatives. I’m not aware of a study since Fox became a force to be reckoned with. If you know of one, please share it.

    The only way the media stops being so sensationalistic is for all of us to turn it off.

  3. kranky kritter Says:

    Media companies have one primary objective – profits. Some like Fox lean right others like MSNBC lean left. Others still try and maintain at least a pretext of unbiased reporting. At the end of the day it is about profits/ratings.

    Sure. And as Simon points out, It’s pretty well known that a substantial majority of the worker bees who generate the content for those profits lean liberal. That either makes some difference, or it makes no difference. Right? As Simon implicitly acknowledges, it’s probably overstating it by quite a bit to refer to the media’s embedded liberal agenda, if by that we mean any sort of organized plot. I agree that it’s a sort of groupthink. Further, I think it manifests noticeably only on a handful of issues. Conservatives tend to constantly and grossly overstate its extent, which is part of the reason liberals have a pretty easy go of claiming it’s utterly nonexistent, or even that it’s the other way round.

    In the main, the sorts of biases that Stewart talks about really are the primary driving forces at a meta level. Criticism of these particular biases are a well-established field of scholarly criticism that has been on the mark for at least two decades. Yet that mostly accurate scholarship, at least when I studied it years ago, doggedly maintained that any liberal lean was pure myth. My sense is that it’s very overstated by conservatives, but real and noticeable whenever it comes to wedge social issues.

    To my eye it manifests on a micro level, on these certain issues. It is true that the last 2 decades have seen the right catch up, become more savvy, and make partisan inroads. It’s no longer the WSJ and the Fox news carrying all the water. But they are the heavy lifters, and the left still has a bigger cast of those, at least to my eye.

    The way we seem to be headed is away from any particular noticeable overall slant, which is good, but towards more polarization, which isn’t very good. The mainstream is becoming more and more silted, especially with salacious trivia. So we get a swamp. In an era of limited budgets and increasing audience targeting, few if any info outlets seem able to keep anyone’s attention by being even-handed and informative. To the modern attention span, it t comes across as insipid and cluttered with too many details.

    It’s got to be almost 30 years now since the estimable Neil Postman warned that we were in danger of amusing ourselves to death. But he seems to have been spot on.

  4. Mike A. Says:

    Simon says “So as I understand it, the question is, if the media is so liberal, why haven’t they gone easy on Wiener, Spitzer et al. Well, the answer is they have! ”

    Ridiculous. Americans have been bombarded with Wiener stories from mainstream media at the onset of this story. This was not “perfunctory” reporting, but a near Simpson-like media circus. Take, for example, CNN’s video of Dana Bash asking Wiener about his messages over-and-over (and over) a press conference on May 28th. How many times did the mainstream media run this?

    Can you back up your claim with anything that resembles data?

  5. kranky kritter Says:

    Yeah, I don’t think they’ve gone particularly easy on Weiner as a group, although we know that Stewart, a friend, was very upfront about wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt in the early stages.

    To learn, let’s notice that’s one place where such a bias might reliably ever show up: when there’s real doubt. That’s when the counseling against a rush to judgement are most plausible. From the way the media covered Weiner from the get-go, it seems likely to me that some or many of them already knew that there was plenty of fire behind the first reported puffs of smoke. That is, they already knew more of the story, but didn’t have the evidentiary support beyond hearsay to release it all right away.

    We know that the media’s primary biases are ratings/money-related, which connect directly to an adoration of salacious scandal. No political bias seems nearly powerful enough to stop any reporter from joining the pack to play “catch the pervie,” not once the blood is in the water, Further, we know that the media has a very strong bias against anyone who tries to lie and manipulate them for their own ends, which is exactly what Weiner did when the first puffs rose. If you look into a camera and bald-faced lie, at length, and the media finds out, you’re going up on the cross. Period.

  6. Larry Says:

    Part of the problem with the examples from Simon and Kranky Kritter is also an aspect of scandal has been seen more on the right side of the spectrum, with a few minor exceptions on the left. This is the fact that more than sensationalist headlines, the media loves hypocrisy. On the right, we’ve had our share of it from senators and congressmen who built their careers on “family values” only to then be found out to be a) having an affair b) be closeted gay people who up until being exposed were rabidly anti-gay c) were molesting pages within the capitol. For these politicians, not only does the sleaze make the story more interesting, but it gets additional traction thanks to the hypocritical nature of it all. On the left, the same case happened with Spitzer who made his name on many issues, including his take down of various escort services, even as he used them himself.

    Now Weiner, he never really ran on a “family values” platform so the hypocritical nature of it was absent. However, his attempts at cover up made him seem the bumbling fool. The bigger issue that hardly any media figure picked up was what the ordeal said about his judgement, i.e. an elected official who willingly puts himself in a compromising position is a prime candidate for extortion by a third party. The same happened with Clinton, it was never so much about the sex or his personal life, as it was about his judgement.

    Most of the media misses the point of these scandals and focuses on the superfluous sensationalism, sex, and or hypocrisy. Mainly, because that’s what sells.

  7. David P. Summers Says:

    Well, its the same binary thinking (which is itself in line with a two party partisan system that tries to reduce things to either our side or the other). The premise is that either the media is partisan “or” it is sensationalist. Either it is biased toward liberals “or” it sometimes goes after liberals.

    These all can be true. The media can both seek out the sensational and the partisan. The media hit one party when convenient while still giving that party better coverage in the long run.

  8. Art Says:

    From the LA Times:
    “…the New York Democrat had largely been given the benefit of the doubt. As the photo surfaced over Memorial Day weekend, much of the media’s attention focused on whether Weiner was the victim of a conservative sting, perhaps orchestrated by the irrepressible Andrew Breitbart. Weiner himself had maintained that his Twitter and Facebook accounts had been hacked.”

    It’s telling that the first reaction of the mainstream media was to try to blame the messenger, and defend Weiner. They had to be dragged to the story kicking and screaming. Their starting point was that conservative Breitbart must be lying, and Democrat Weiner must be telling the truth.

  9. Calmoderate Says:

    Its so good to see people begin to look honestly at the media and how they operate. Their professed goal of service to the public interest is generally at odds with their need to generate profits. The need for profit pushes them toward sensationalism and fluff because it sells. Unfortunately, that generally leaves the public rather uninformed about important issues, which tend to be ‘dull’ and complicated.

    The injection of partisan politics (both real and alleged) into the “partisan press” debate makes it easy for partisans to dismiss facts and reasonable conclusions they don’t like and accept ones they do. The public interest in being reasonably well informed suffers. Our politics suffers and we continue to fail, politically speaking.

    All one can do is just turn it off when things from the mainstream media begins to look like propaganda or sensationalist fluff. Other than finding or building unbiased information sources (e.g., blogs like this one or a new political party grounded in reality and not ideology), I don’t know how to fix it or make things better. Many people enjoy their daily dose of fluff and there’s not much one can do about it. Its just human nature.

  10. kranky kritter Says:

    Right Cal, the only plausible fixes are for moderates and independents to act independently. Respond counter to the media’s spin. Generate better takes.

    And give feedback that gets heard. Do what it takes to vote in the presidential challenger party’s primary. Look for and support viable independent candidates. Even 3 to 5 independents in the senate would make a demonstrable difference.

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