The truth is out there. But who would've expected to find it in a comedy show?
While many Christian churches act as a supportive shill for America's government, and peddle more propaganda about Israel than politicians, the truth exposing the absolute epitome of ignorance and intolerance enveloping America was revealed June 9, 2010 in an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, for which he deserves a Pulitzer Prize.
Stewart skewered the White House press corps for its response to the untimely resignation of the venerable media matron Helen Thomas by roasting them over the flames of their own inadequacies. Brilliantly so.
Using a comedic style that has catapulted his Comedy Central program to the forefront of the list of must-watch news programs, Stewart capitalizes upon sad reflections of America's failed fourth estate by merely holding up a mirror ... then adding a punch line.
King of News Comedy
Stewart set up his hilarious dismantling of "mainstream" media with this intro:
Still, the circumstances surrounding her sad resignation raise some serious issues:
What's the line between opinion and opinion journalism?
When does America's unwavering defense of Israel begin to compromise our unwavering defense of free speech?
Does our media demonstrate a casual bias against the Arab world and the suffering of the Palestinians?
These are hard questions reporters must be asking themselves in the wake of Thomas' departure.
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Stewart followed his setup with a montage of top tier journalists asking the most important question on their minds: Who gets Thomas' front row seat?
Thank you Mr. Stewart. America owes you a debt we cannot repay.
Journalists Turn on Thomas
Helen Thomas' media career spanned more than a half-century. She was there to ask tough questions of presidents dating back to JFK. When she resigned her post as a journalist for UPI 10 years ago and joined Hearst as a columnist, she retained her post in front of the podium in the White House briefing room. She did not, however, retain her venerable status. She was sneered at by White House spokespersons, dismissed by many journalists in the White House press corps and even told that she should respect the "honor and privilege" she was granted to be in her seat ... by former White House spokesperson Dana Perino.
Somewhere in Perino's admonishing of a venerable journalist (who was breaking down barriers of sexism when Perino was still being potty trained), the fact the American people own the White House was lost in translation. Politicians, media and corporations seemingly have all coalesced into the same melting pot of propagandists, and the Fourth Estate's position as the American people's watchdog in the White House, to guard against tyranny and dictatorship, has apparently been reduced to a "privilege" granted by the elected powers.
Ironic, isn't it?
We, the people, elect our representatives. We then send our "eyes and ears" into the public institutions that control power granted by the people. Our "eyes and ears" are told by those elected powers they need to ask questions that follow guidelines, stay within boundaries established by the elected powers and always remember how much of an "honor and privilege" it is for journalists to be allowed to ask questions of the president and his staff.
Losing Helen Thomas
The true irony is in the dog-eat-dog defection that has reduced the White House Press Corps to cannibalism. Helen Thomas didn't stand a chance. No wonder she resigned after her off-handed comments to a drive-by interviewer about the plight of the Palestinians. Her fellow colleagues, many of whom were in college when Ms. Thomas had already made historical progress through at least 30 years of her career, quickly turned on her.
The chorus of condemnation for Ms. Thomas rose to a rapid crescendo across the media elite landscape.
Voice of the People
Inadvertently, Ms. Thomas' quiet, but not-so-subtle, resignation from her role as a tough interviewer and stalwart representative of the voiceless, gave rise to a passionate outcry from the people ... not the press.
My personal interest is in the question, "Who is the power that unceremoniously ushered Ms. Thomas out the door for expressing her opinion?" Let's get a specific person's name on television and in newspapers. Let's hear someone claim responsibility and defend their decision as adamantly as those who have harshly condemned Ms. Thomas. Let's have interviews with the person at Hearst Corporation who determined Ms. Thomas' illustrious career was worth scuttling, and her name and reputation was worth destroying, because he (or she) disagreed with Ms. Thomas' views. Can the person or people behind the corporate facade pick up the phone and talk to the people of this nation? Has anyone up in those ivory towers heard of talk radio? Social media? Cable news?
Helloooo? White House Correspondents Association ... as Joan Rivers used to say, "Can we talk?"
What Fourth Estate?
Sadly, as Jon Stewart aptly pointed out on June 9, media coverage of the issues raised by Ms. Thomas' dismissal (let's not pretend her resignation wasn't coerced) is lacking. Media do not seem concerned with informing the public about the powerful people behind the corporate monikers. Media decision-makers are concerned with ensuring they are in the right position when the music stops and everyone in the White House briefing room will discover who inherits Ms. Thomas' coveted chair.
Again, thank you Mr. Stewart. Your honest reflections of the animals in our media zoo displays a frightening look at the devolution of the press in America. The treatment of Helen Thomas is a media disgrace and a public indicator of the depths to which journalism has sunk. The last bastion of hope appears now in the hands of "The Fifth Estate," as the people become more actively involved in the dual activity of producing as well as consuming media. Someday, the people will regain our rightful role as owners of the White House, not privileged guests.
Debate over Israel
In the wake of Ms. Thomas' abrupt resignation -- and in the current knowledge that she will not receive a much-deserved pomp and circumstance retirement -- media don't seem too concerned with the monumental issues pertaining to the challenges facing both Israel and the Palestinians that she raised. Ms. Thomas' point, as crudely as she stated it, was an acceptable jumping-off point to discuss the issues that have been at the core of the Israeli-Arab dispute since the Balfour Declaration, prior to the formation of the state of Israel. The mass immigration of European Jews is at the heart of one of the core disputes. And while Ms. Thomas' comments pertained to the occupation of new Israeli settlements, the issue over a broken promise pertaining to mass immigration into Palestine spans more than 60 years.
Sure, journalists like The Washington Post's highly respected Howard Kurtz will defend media coverage of the issues pertaining to Israel. But similar defenses were made of media coverage of the important issues leading up to the economic collapse of 2008. Subsequent investigations into media efforts to inform the public discovered that media were abysmal, ignorant and even apathetic in their efforts to inform the public of relevant information it needed to know. I suspect the same is true with regard to Israel-Arab disputes and in particular the issue of the plight of the Palestinians.
The American public is woefully ignorant of the historical context and relevant facts on both sides of the issue. Media can claim responsibility for the pervasive public ignorance. The presumed "coverage" isn't informing anyone about much of anything.
It seems, however, that media now have an open door to begin investigative reporting, documentary reporting, interviews, producing round table public discussions, panel Q&As, Town Hall audience discussions, editorials, columns, etc. on the issues pertaining to Israel and Palestine. Historical debates are still the issue today. And such issues cannot be discussed in a vacuum without historical context.
Have media provided a foundation for a set of facts upon which credible arguments and opinions can be made? There's no doubt of the importance of Israel in America's foreign policy. Media can claim the he-said-she-said regurgitation reports are news, but no journalists can declare such piecemeal reports truly inform anyone on the issues that continue to cause passionate debate.
Unfortunately, the general public is woefully ill-informed about the issues. And the sad reality is that there is a real fear of discussing any issue pertaining to Israel if one is of an opinion that is critical of Israeli decisions.
Yes, it's true. In this presumed "land of the free," ironically, many are afraid to express opinions that are critical of Israel. That, too, is an issue media are unwilling to report on.
Defending Helen Thomas
I don't have to agree with Ms. Thomas to recognize she has a right to her opinion without fear of retribution or a cataclysmic obliteration of her illustrious career and reputation. My biggest surprise wasn't what she said nor the expected outcry from those who blindly support Israel. I was genuinely surprised by the cult-like zombie journalists who kicked Ms. Thomas into the gutter without hesitation. I truly expected journalists to stand together and protect one of the most respected names in media.
Media may have taken two bold steps if today's journalists held any respect for Ms. Thomas at all:
1. Journalists could have stood strong against the distasteful and disrespectful manner in which Ms. Thomas was treated by political mouthpieces in the Bush and Obama administrations and followed that unified stance by standing together over the past couple of weeks in support for her as corporate powers determined her fate.
2. Journalists could have opted to do more reporting and opinion writing on the issues raised by Ms. Thomas regarding the state of the Palestinians and the decisions made by Israel. The issue of whether journalists (and columnists, which she was) have a right to express their opinions outside of their office hours is a quite obvious discussion that ought to have taken precedence over the battle brewing for Ms. Thomas' vacant chair.
In fairness, here's a defense of the White House Press Corps presented by one of their own. Sadly, the writer fails to see the irony in defending the Press Corps' rendezvous with Biden and silly questions at press briefings while remaining silent in defense of Helen Thomas.
Jon Stewart Deserves a Pulitzer Prize
At the end of the day, I can either lament over the ruins of the Fourth Estate or rejoice in the grand slam home run hit by Jon Stewart's display of the farce that mainstream media have become. Stewart makes me laugh and cry at the same time.
Stewart presented his "Moment of Zen" at the end of his June 9 program, during which the top cable news channel, Fox News, welcomes a bevy of beauties from "Hooters" restaurant onto the Fox morning show, Fox & Friends, to peddle chicken by way of sexploitation inside a Fox News television studio. Undoubtedly, my "friends" at Fox would steer me from the human breasts to the chicken breasts and over to the news within a matter of a few minutes. The whiplash I'd likely get from such crass viewing has no effect on a generation of "news" audiences who have grown up on a gumbo soup of "infotainment," as former CNN news reporter Bonnie Anderson warned us in her book, "News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment, and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News." The same sort of soup and salad mixture of entertainment and in-studio advertising endorsements is served up on all the networks as well.
So why should I expect much more from the White House Press Corps? As Stewart adeptly displayed on his June 9 program, the marriage of the Fourth Estate with political power is demonstrated in the metaphor of Vice President Joe Biden's carnival playground for journalists. Isn't that the sort of gathering parents typically arrange for their children? The unholy union of politicians and corporations that own media must have some impact on The Fourth Estate. Whether we view journalists as subservient offspring, kissing cousins, adult mistresses or marital partners with the White House, the point is the same: the American people lost the only tough journalist we had in the room who worked for us.
It's sad to see the venerable Ms. Thomas get dumped while her colleagues in the White House Press Corps ask "tough" questions about iPads, workouts, vacation plans and such. But it's encouraging to see a real journalist (sorry Jon) hold an institution's feet to the fire. Unfortunately, that real journalist is a comedian and the institution is the Fourth Estate.