Stewart, Maddow and the real problem with cable

During the Rally To Restore Sanity Jon Stewart focused on how America’s media in general, and cable news in particular, exaggerate partisan divides to an absurd degree.

“The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems,” said Stewart, “But its existence makes solving them that much harder.”

Conservative pundits largely ignored this criticism, because it adds nothing to their “us vs. them” narrative. Liberal pundits didn’t feel they had that luxury.

Terrified of being lumped in with the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC’s liberal talking heads quickly went on the defensive. As an olive branch, of sorts, Jon Stewart appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” to clarify his points. Here is the full, uncut interview:

I like a lot of what Stewart says here. His inability to not control the way his creation is interpreted reminded me a lot of adventures I and my friends experienced in college.

But I don’t think the focus on left-versus-right controversies is the problem with the American media. I think it’s a symptom of a deeper issue: the almost complete non-existence of international political news on those channels.

American news networks do cover the rest of the world, occasionally. If there’s a natural disaster, for example, or if America’s president/army is visiting/invading a given country.

Beyond that, though, international news is a novelty here. You’ll certainly never see an in-depth discussion of Nigeria’s economic policies, unless of course they have a direct impact on gas prices here in America (and you can bet the gas price narrative will be what dominates the story.)

Changing this would help in two ways. First, covering a planet’s worth of news leaves little time for the sort of talking head nonsense Stewart is complaining about.

Watch CNN International, then contrast it with CNN’s American broadcast, and you’ll quickly know what I’m talking about. Even better: watch Al Jazeera English right now. I guarantee you’ll see more substantive reporting in a half hour on Al Jazeera than you will watching CNN, Fox or MSNBC for two full hours.

So covering international news reduces the amount of time a network has for nonsense. Beyond that, though, international news could give Americans context for news happening in America.

Learning about international politics puts one’s own nation into perspective. Lacking this perspective, Americans tend to look at their policy choices in a vacuum. It is this vacuum, I believe, that allows the political environment to become so toxic.

Calling Obama a communist and Bush a fascist seems silly when you compare them to the way real communists and real fascists are behaving right now. Real international coverage could help point this out.

Overall I thought Stewart did a very good job of expressing his point of view, both during the rally and in this interview. I just wish he, and the rest of the American media, did more to tell Americans what’s going on outside their comfortable bubble of a country.


  1. I liked the article a lot.
    A few questions and i don’t mean to sound rude at all and also not anti American.

    What if the American people don’t want to know about the world?

    Doesn’t your mainstream media indulge in fluff pieces because they know it sells?

    I am sure there are sources of international news that the American people can access if they want to.

    I feel it’s not only the people in your country, but in any group of people who are rich and powerful, the majority of them will concentrate on what matters them to most, no matter how detrimental it is to them.

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