Jon Stewart: “The media shouldn’t allow its own narcissism to rise to the narcissism of the politicians.”

Jon Stewart: “We are now two sides.”

From a New York Times Magazine interview by David Marchese of television personality and satirist Jon Stewart titled “The Enemy Is Noise. The Goal Is Clarity:”:

For all the value Jon Stewart delivered as a political satirist and voice of reason during his 16-year-run as the host of ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ it’s quite plausible to suggest that the political and media Bizarro World in which we live — where skepticism is the default, news is often indistinguishable from entertainment and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country’s political leaders — is one that he and his show helped to usher in. . . .

We used to have news and we had entertainment. Now those categories are totally intertwined — to the extent that it’s not far-fetched to say that we just have varieties of entertainment. And similarly, people are looking at entertainers, rather than politicians, as political authorities. I don’t think it’s too far off base to suggest that, unintentionally or not, ‘‘The Daily Show’’ played a part in that transformation. What do you think about those changes and what they’ve wrought? I think you have to look at what incentivized the system. The news didn’t become ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ because at its core, ‘‘The Daily Show’’ was a critique of the news and a critique of those systems. If they’d taken in what we were saying, they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing now: creating urgency through conflict. Conflict has become the catalyst for the economic model. The entire system functions that way now. We are two sides — in a country of 350 million people.

That reminds me of the old George Carlin joke about how in America you have 23 kinds of bagels to choose from but only two political parties. Politically in this country, you have Coke or Pepsi. Every now and again, Dr Pepper comes along and everybody is like, ‘‘You ruined this for everyone else.’’ Dr Pepper is Ralph Nader, let’s say. But getting back to your question — it plays into that scenario of looking for the scapegoat. ‘‘Well, it’s ‘The Daily Show.’ They popularized news-as-entertainment.’’ It’s the New York Times trend-piece thing of somebody getting hold of an idea and amplifying it even though it really has no breadth or depth to it.

What do you think of the news media’s handle on this political moment more generally? I don’t think it has ever had a good handle on a political moment. It’s not designed for that. It’s designed for engagement. It’s like YouTube and Facebook: an information-laundering perpetual-radicalization machine. It’s like porn. I don’t mean that to be flip. When you were pubescent, the mere hint of a bra strap could send you into ecstasy. I’m 57 now. If it’s not two nuns and a mule, I can’t even watch it. Do you understand my point? The algorithm is not designed for thoughtful engagement and clarity. It’s designed to make you look at it longer.

Have there been any positive changes, though? Let me give you an example of what might be one: When you were doing ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ part of what made you unique was your last-sane-man-in-Crazytown quality. You would actually say that someone in power was telling a lie when the nightly newscasters wouldn’t. Now they will say that. Is that a step in the right direction? The media’s job is to deconstruct the manipulation, not to just call it a lie. It’s about informing on how something works so that you understand the lie’s purpose. What are the structural issues underneath the lie? The media shouldn’t take the political system personally, or allow its own narcissism to rise to the narcissism of the politicians, or become offended that the politicians are lying — their job is to manipulate.

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