Thursday, October 24, 2013

Progressive monkeys eat their old

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Jon Stewart's The Daily Show was the go-to source in social media and messageboard world for the Left. With any issue that made the Right look bad, you can bet dollars to donuts some left-leaning friend would post a clip of Stewart opining on the matter, offering his patented barbs of mockery. On messageboards and comment threads throughout internet-land, links to clips from The Daily Show would show up constantly. And frankly, such links were often right on point and quite effective. Stewart is good at what he does, at the humorous presentation of political and social commentary. He was good at it and he still is.

But Stewart has always been ready to jump on both sides, at least to some extent. And when his target is a liberal politician or--God forbid--the Obama Administration, his biggest fans, the ones responsible for sharing his clips all over the place, tend to go quiet. Predictably so. Needless to say, some of the recent segments from The Daily Show--the ones mocking the Obamacare website--are having such an effect. The same is true of Stephen Colbert's show, The Colbert Report, though to a much lesser extent. Colbert's clips aren't as widely shared and he tends to keep his views more firmly partisan. Still, Colbert can't help but make liberal Congresscritters and the Administration look foolish when the opportunity presents itself.

Here's a recent clip from The Daily Show:


And here's one from The Colbert Report:


Both mock the rollout of Obamacare, the big website opening, but Stewart's is far more thorough in this regard. Colbert can't help trying to zing the Right as well. Still, the larger point remains: despite the hilarity--and accuracy--of these clips, most of the left-leaning fans of these shows simply aren't interested in sharing clips that make Obama and the Democrats look bad. And of course, why would they?

Chris Cillizza, veteran political blogger at WaPo, noted the other day that Jon Stewart in particular is now a major problem for the Administration, when it comes to improving the perception of Obamacare among the public at large. In fact, Cillizza calls Stewart Obama's "biggest problem" in this regard:
President Obama’s biggest problem when it comes to selling the American public on the so-far rocky rollout of his health-care law isn’t John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or even Ted Cruz. It’s Jon Stewart.

Stewart, the host of the wildly popular “Daily Show” on Comedy Central, has emerged as a harsh critic of HealthCare.gov and the Obama administration’s inability to fix it.
It's a fair conclusion. Cillizza backs it up by noting that The Daily Show trails only The Colbert Report in terms of its share of younger (18-29) viewers. Having Stewart hammer Obamacare is not good news for the Administration, will not help it "sell" the law to a majority of the public who right now see it as bad news. But then Cillizza is one of the few pundits out there still capable of drawing fair conclusions, a point I noted back in May of this year when Cillizza correctly explained Mark Sanford's victory over Colbert Busch (Stephen's sister) in South Carolina.

But it's a conclusion that apparently doesn't sit well with the progressive intelligentsia (remember when it used to be liberal intelligentsia?). Witness this piece by Alex Pareene at Salon. The tone is easy to ascertain; Pareene is clearly very upset with both Stewart and Cillizza, the first for daring to criticize the President's signature achievement and the second for daring to suggest people might listen to the first. Pareene tries to take Cillizza to task for the latter's analysis of viewership but comes across as petty with his rather forced argument, wherein he "tsk, tsks" Cillizza for doing something he (Cillizza) didn't actually do:
The Pew Report, though, does not say that “The Daily Show” is the exclusive source of news for more than a small subset of those young viewers. According to the same survey, nearly a third of the New York Times’ readers are 18-29.
That's right, Alex, the report doesn't say that. And Cillizza neither said not implied the report said that. Your point?

But even worse, Pareene manufactures a new paradigm of (mis)understanding, wherein Jon Stewart is not on the left at all, where the press is largely "centrist":
There is actually a case to be made that Stewart is, sort of broadly, “bad” for liberalism, because in certain respects he is fairly conservative...

He is not remotely a leftist, in other words, which isn’t a problem except that, for the centrist political press, he represents the left. For all the talk of Youngs who only get their news from Jon Stewart, it is more disturbing — and bad for democracy and governance — that Olds get all their opinions about what Young People and The Left are thinking from him. Stewart is, really, a rather conventional 50-year-old Northeast liberal, with a mostly young (and white) writing staff of perhaps slightly more liberal people.

When he represents the left-most pole of the debate, the terms of the debate are going to range from center-left to far-right. That has been how political debates have played out in this country since the rise of the very conservative right-wing press was belatedly met with a more moderate “liberal media.” Jon Stewart is only a “problem” when political analysts like Cillizza, who seems as allergic to genuine left-wing thought as he is to political science, overstate his influence and misstate his position on the ideological spectrum.
Well okay, then. Just so we're clear here, in Pareene's world a "Northeast liberal" is not a "leftist" at all. Instead, he (or she) is "fairly conservative." Of course, this wasn't the case when Stewart was hammering the Right. Then, he was both valid as a leftist and meaningful as a political commentator. Now? He's yesterday's news. But rather than dig into the subjectivity of political labels (which Pareene no doubt sees as objective ones, when it comes to his own personal views), let's just focus on the supposed lack of significance, lack of effect, Pareene is suggesting Stewart's show no possesses.

Pareene's hypocrisy here is quite easy to demonstrate. Look back at the numbers Cillizza sites, the ones that show The Daily Show and The Colbert Report being the dominate sources for younger viewers. According to Pareene, those numbers don't indicate much of anything; the total viewership is just not significant. Now check out this article by Pareene from a couple of years back. Pareene's take on Stephen Colbert (my boldface):
Faced with the inescapable fact that he is one of the two most effective mouthpieces for the progressive political agenda in the nation, comedian Stephen Colbert testified before the House Immigration and Agriculture subcommittee today in support of the legalization of undocumented agriculture workers.
"One of the two most effective mouthpieces for the progressive political agenda" (who is the other, I wonder)? Based on what, Alex? It's okay, you can say it...based on his TV show's viewership numbers, his reach among younger viewers who are the primary source of progressive support. And that viewership was and remains largely the same viewership enjoyed by Stewart. Apparently, what makes Colbert a significant voice makes Stewart a largely meaningless voice.
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."--Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Cheers, all.

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