AN OPEN LETTER TO BRIAN WILLIAMS
RE your appearance on The Daily Show, August 15, 2012
I was at once appalled and amused by your comments during your appearance on The Daily Show. But then, I am always appalled and amused when it comes to the topic of the so-called “news media” these days; appalled by the lack of actual news reporting, and amused that people like yourself continue to pretend that what you offer is even remotely connected to actual journalism.
Stewart opened the interview with, “Let’s talk about Paul Ryan. All I have heard from the news divisions across network platforms is how thrilled they are to have Paul Ryan – now they can finally talk substance. When is that going to start happening?”
Your response, “As soon as we exhaust all of our reporting on his driving of the Wiener Mobile while a young man,” was witty and laughter-inducing, as is appropriate for a “fake news” program. The problem is the remark is much closer to the truth than it should be. And that, sir, is no laughing matter.
The Wiener Mobile story is just the kind of nonsense we have come to expect from the TV news media – not in addition to actual news, but in place of it.
As Mr. Stewart pointedly asked: “What is preventing the media from discussing more substantive issues before the introduction of Paul Ryan, and then since the introduction, and then, let’s say, you know, after the election?”
That is the very question on the minds of millions of viewers who are tired of the fact that the mainstream news has become news-o-tainment – replete with snappy graphics, eye-catching effects, and very little of anything of substance.
Your reply, “Well, as you know, there are a lot of distractions in this world …,” was appropriately countered by Mr. Stewart’s comment: “No, I don’t.”
More to the point, sir – “No, WE don’t.” We have difficulty understanding how the so-called news media is so easily distracted away from the actual goddamned news it is purportedly your job to report.
“Wait until people get a bite out of (Ryan’s) voting record. Wait until more people understand the vote on TARP. Wait ‘til we get down the road.”
With all due respect, sir, why should the viewing public have to wait for the facts about Ryan, or the facts about anything else? Oh, that’s right – you were distracted.
“Today, specifically, as I said tonight, was a terrible day for discourse in a democracy. With eighty-four days left to go until the election; you had Biden’s comment last night. Rudy Giuliani comes out today, says Biden isn’t smart enough to be president. You had Romney upset because of Biden last night. And you had Team Obama hitting back at Romney. We can’t, as a country, keep doing this.”
The truth of the matter is that the country isn’t doing this – you and your colleagues are. The many distractions of which you speak are of your own making. How often have we seen these types of non-stories completely overtake nightly news broadcasts?
So Rudy Giuliani said Biden isn’t smart enough to be vice president? When was the last time anyone actually cared about what Rudy had to say about anything – other than TV news journalists who treat every utterance by people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump as though they matter?
And yet this is what we are subjected to, day in and day out, by people like yourself – sixty seconds of what went on in the world today, followed by an endless stream of opinions, comments and remarks by people only the media itself finds fascinating.
Look, Mr. Williams, it’s simple. When I tune into the news, I actually want the facts about what happened today, and just the facts. I am not the least bit interested in what any pundit, political strategist, has-been politician, or reality show fifteen-minutes-of-famer has to say.
Given the facts, I am more than capable of forming my own conclusions. But it is the facts that are invariably dismissed by the media as not sexy enough, not grabby enough, and somehow not important enough to be proffered without being jazzed up for the viewing public, who – or so you and your colleagues seem to think – want to be distracted by the he said/she said war-of-words between political camps. We don’t.
There is one event that I knew heralded the decline of TV news journalism, and that is the fact that newscasters such as yourself did not immediately distance yourselves from what Fox News was doing from its inception. I would have expected real journalists to decry the concept of an alleged “news network” skewing the news in such an obvious way, and blatantly acting as the propaganda arm of the Republican party. I would have expected journalists with integrity to state, without hesitation, that such obvious bias in reporting the news was contrary to the principles of true journalism.
Instead, the other news broadcasters looked at Fox’s numbers and began to emulate their techniques: offer opinion rather than fact, offer commentary in place of an unbiased presentation of current events, offer airtime to politicians without ever questioning their statements of alleged fact. So much for putting journalistic integrity above ratings.
Your reference to Sy Syms, and his hallmark phrase that “an educated consumer is our best customer,” was dead on the money. Said you: “And I thought, well good on the late Sy Syms, because he was right about being a haberdasher, but he was also right about our business.”
That begs the question, sir: just how educated are the consumers of TV news these days? Do they know what’s going on – or do they only know about the “distractions” you serve up as news? Do they know Joe Biden’s accomplishments or failures as a vice president – or do they only know what Rudy Giuliani has to say about the matter?
Was the TV news viewing audience apprised of the facts before the invasion of Iraq – or were they spoon-fed opinions by newscasters wholly-owned by corporations with lucrative government contracts that would result in increased profits if the nation was at war?
It’s said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. What makes for stranger and much more dangerous bedfellows is corporate-sponsored news programming that tailors the news to fit their own agenda. I’ve no doubt that Sy Syms would be appalled at such a state of affairs.
I realize I have lumped you in with TV newscasters who are more prone to bias than you are – along with those who are less so inclined. But the truth is that you are all now equally suspect as a result of not one among you standing up for what is factual and accurate, as opposed to hiding behind the fluff of “distractions” and the false equivalency of Obama asking for Romney’s tax returns as “hitting back” at an opponent. The truth is the truth, sir, and Americans wanting to know what Romney is hiding is not equivalent to the Romney camp calling the Obama administration incompetent.
Earlier this year, Newt Gingrich guested on The Daily Show. He said something in the interview which Mr. Stewart questioned; Mr. Gingrich stood by his statement as being factual. When the show resumed after a commercial break, Mr. Stewart explained that he’d had his staff research what Gingrich had said and found it to be completely false. That’s how a self-described “fake news” program dealt with the situation, sir. One would think a “real news” show would do the same. But they never do.
In the lead-up to the Affordable Care Act, I watched Republican after Republican on TV news shows spewing absolute nonsense about how the Canadian healthcare system works, i.e. all doctors are government employees, wait times for seeing a doctor can range from six months to a year, a doctor cannot prescribe medication nor treat a patient without first speaking to a government agency, etc. As an American living in Canada, I knew these claims to be absolutely outrageous lies.
And yet these people were never challenged, never questioned, never asked for the source of their information, nor were their claims ever investigated and corrected on-air. Perhaps the current news media should put less money into snappy graphics, and instead hire a couple of staffers who know how to use Google. Correcting the record ain’t that hard, Brian. We only wish you’d try it.
There is something unspeakably sad about watching the torch of TV journalism being passed from the likes of Cronkite and Murrow into the hands of well-coiffed bobbleheads who seem to believe that TV journalism is just another reality show – where the “reality” is scripted, where inconvenient facts are left on the proverbial cutting room floor, where “political discourse” is a matter of catchy sound bytes with accompanying bottom-screen chyrons.
“Today, specifically, as I said tonight, was a terrible day for discourse in a democracy.”
Sir, let me inform you of some not-so-late-breaking news: Every day is a terrible day for discourse in a democracy when what should be the watchful eye of the news media is instead focused on shiny objects – like a comment from a has-been like Giuliani – and is invariably focused on the soap-opera of he said/she said, instead of who spoke the truth.
The advent of TV news (and I am old enough to remember its infancy well) held such incredible promise. Political misrepresentations and distortion of the facts could now be exposed and corrected in record time, and broadcast to millions of viewers who craved, and deserved, the truth. In place of that promise, what we now have is a news media too lazy to fact-check, too beholding to corporate interests to speak the unvarnished truth, too vapid and self-serving to uphold the lofty ideals their profession once embraced.
I have seen your appearances on The Daily Show, sir. It is apparent that you are intelligent and well-informed; you exude warmth and compassion, and are blessed with a quick wit and a fabulous sense of humor.
All of that being said, you can imagine how disappointed I am that someone of your intellect and talent would deign to defend the indefensible. The TV news media, once the brightest star in the television firmament, has been reduced to a sad joke. And those of us who once envisioned its ultimate promise of journalism at its finest are not laughing at the devastatingly sad punchline. That’s because, as things turned out, the joke’s on us.
— Nance Greggs