Some Good News about the News: 5 Reasons Why ‘Fake’ News is Better than Fox ‘News’

by: Brian Ott / Colorado State University

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

There is no more destructive, deleterious, and dangerous institution in society today than the mainstream news media. It has so profoundly fallen short of its mission and responsibilities in a democratic society that it has become our greatest national disgrace. The dramatic problems with the news media and in particular with the network news are well documented, ranging from its information biases to its corporate concentration.[1] Given its utter failure to serve the public as a positive tool for civic engagement, public opinion of the news media–not surprisingly–has been declining for twenty years. Citing a 2003 survey, Tom Fenton reports that, “Americans think journalists are sloppier, less professional, less moral, less caring, more biased, less honest about their mistakes and generally more harmful to democracy than they did in the 1980s.”[2] Despite arguments to the counter, “the wide-spread public perception of journalists as ethically bankrupt” and “as moral pygmies”[3] is, in my judgment, well earned. We continue to consume the “news” at our own risk. But this column is not about how crappy the news is. As near as I can tell, the only people who don’t understand that are news producers. No, this column offers, “Some Good News about the News.” Simply stated, young and apparently bright Americans are turning away from traditional news sources in droves.

According to Mindich, for instance, “While more than 70 percent of older Americans read a newspaper every day, a habit they picked up in their youth, less than 20 percent of young Americans do so now.”[4] Similar figures are available regarding youth consumption of national television news broadcasts. While Mindich deeply laments these trends, I see them as cause for unrestrained jubilation. The fact is that young adults age 18-to-34 are increasingly turning to non-traditional news outlets to get their information.[5] I refer to these non-traditional outlets — which include Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, Internet blogs, and general interest websites such as Yahoo.com — as “fake” news. By inscribing “fake” in quotation marks, my aim is to question whether or not these outlets are actually worse than traditional news sources. Indeed, I refer to traditional sources such as newspapers and network broadcasts as “news” because they quite clearly don’t deliver anything approaching actual news. I am particularly encouraged by recent data suggesting that nearly half of the people under 30 use late night comedians as a major news source [6] and that Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, is the most trusted TV anchor among persons who identify the Internet as their top news source.[7] Using The Daily Show and Fox “News” as exemplars, let me explain why I’m encouraged by this data in a segment I like to call, “5 Reasons Why ‘Fake’ News is Better than Fox ‘News’.”

1. “Fake” news fosters critical thought. The Daily Show operates on Kenneth Burke’s notion of “perspective by incongruity.” Rather than telling viewers what to think, as Fox “news” does, it teaches viewer how to think. “Fake” news encourages citizens to engage it inter-actively, rather than to consume it passively. “Fake” news invites citizens to draw their own conclusions based on the presentation of facts and information, rather than to blindly accept the opinions of political pundits and talking heads.

2. “Fake” news does not pretend to be objective. Although The Daily Show is clearly left leaning, it does not try to hide that fact behind ridiculous slogans like “fair and balanced.” Additionally, “fake” news does not pretend as though the prevailing methods of news gathering and reporting are natural or neutral. Rather, The Daily Show consistently exposes the arbitrary and often idiotic conventions of real “news.”

3. “Fake” news does not have a giant, overblown ego. Fox “news” is first and foremost about the personalities of its anchors, who report on themselves endlessly. The personalities on Fox seem to be convinced that everything they do is newsworthy. “Fake” news, by contrast, downplays and even mocks its own celebrity, as a way of reminding viewers that reporters ought not be at the center of the stories they report. Reporters are supposed to report the news, not be the news.

4. “Fake” news does actual research. Traditional news sources do not aggressively fact check the sound bites they use from politicians. Rather, they simply include sound bites from the other political party as a way of “appearing” fair and balanced. The Daily Show uses its massive archive of previous news footage to expose politicians when they make statements that are either false or directly contradict previous statements that they’ve made.

5. “Fake” news is not simply spectacle. Whereas Fox “news” uses fear, hysteria, and shock value to peddle its cheap imitation of news, “fake” news actually reports news. The Daily Show does not attempt to frighten citizens into viewing by promoting a culture of fear. Nor does it manufacture political conflict to create drama and increase ratings. Instead, it values facts and information over salacious storytelling.

I suspect that some readers will be tempted to dismiss my brief analysis of the current state of news as nothing more than liberal bias. After all, I praise the “left” leaning Daily Show and excoriate the “right” leaning Fox Network. But from my perspective, Fox “news” is just a particularly clear example of what is wrong with broadcast news generally, be it on Fox or CBS, ABC, and NBC. It simply no longer can be called news. The good news about the news is that young citizens are opting out of traditional news sources in favor of “fake” news. Additionally, “fake” news such as The Daily Show would seem to suggest that news and profit are not, as often thought, mutually exclusive. In the words of David Javerbaum, “The real bias [of the news media] is toward laziness, toward entertainment, toward confrontation, toward that which will drive the ratings. The real story is this incredible laziness. It seems like the whole institution has lost its way.”[8] Now, David gets it! Perhaps that’s why he’s the head writer for The Daily Show and not a network news producer.

References
[1] Bennett, L. W. (2005). News: The politics of illusion. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Longman.
[2] Fenton, T. (2005). Bad news: The decline of reporting, the business of news, and the danger to us all. New York: 10 ReganBooks, pp. 8-9.
[3] Coleman, R. (2002, Winter). Journalists’ moral development: Study shows they may be surprisingly good at ethical reasoning. Mass Communication and Society Newsletter. Available online.
[4] Mindich, D. (2005). Tuned out: Why Americans under 40 don’t follow the news. New York: Oxford UP, p. 3.
[5] Brown, M. (2005). “Abandoning the news.” Carnegie Corporation of New York. Available online.
[6] Mindich, p. 57.
[7] See Brown.
[8] Quoted in Fenton, p. 13.

Links
Kenneth Burke Roadmap

Image Credits:
1. Jon Stewart

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7 comments

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  • expectations of objectivity

    The ideal of objectivity in the news is, in many ways, a product of industrialization and the rise of the modern advertising industry (don’t offend potential consumers). The problem cited with Fox News is true (perhaps to a lesser extent) with all broadcast network and local news (plus Time, Newsweek, etc.). We the viewers now have ascribed to us an expectation that non-controversy equals objectivity which equals cilility. I tend to prefer the news (even if “fake”) that comes with a position attached. At least then I have a sense of what to support or not support. A few years ago I visited Philadelphia and thought that the nation’s “founding fathers” mush have looked a lot like my own faculty senate. I wondered (and still do) how they would feel about the “objectivity” ideal, much less the political compromises that seem to have resulted from it. What was their notion of civillity?

  • Preaching to the Choir

    I don’t really buy the “as long as it admits its not being objective, its fine” argument. Fine, FoxNews is ridiculously biased and it claims to be fair and balanced. To me, anyone saying anything is fair, balanced or true isn’t harmful; its meaningless. Those who are predisposed to liking one brand of news will like it, whether its real, fake, network or comedy.

    Its ironic that that so many media critics unthinkingly accept “The Daily Show” just as unthinkingly as FoxNews freaks buy their bullsh*t. I’ve yet to hear anything remotely critical of “The Daily Show” from the people who claim to be critical of all media.

    The veneer of comedy is just as “harmful” as the claim to be “Fair and Balanced.” Its Michael Moore all over again. Both present one side of the story, and then when you accuse them of bias, they hide behind the idea that they were “just making jokes.” Let’s cut the crap and realize that they want it both ways – they want to affect political discourse but don’t want to be thought of as didactic.

    OK, The Daily Show is a big hit w/ college kids. But aren’t college kids more likely to be liberal when their in college, and turn conservative when they start families/enter the workforce? The idea of college kids responding to lefty media is about as new as businessmen responding to righty news. Let’s not get carried away – neither FoxNews nor the Daily Show is a phenomenon. They’re just niche news for predisposed segments of the population.

  • wtf?

    Ok, granted the Daily Show is slanted to the left, and, GRANTED that college kids as far as the stereotype goes are more left leaning, lets just judge them based on the reactions one recevies after watching an episode of each program (Daily Show vs FOX News or any other one I’ll just go with Fox because I just really don’t like them.)

    The Daily Show, i.e. faje news, has on many occasions taken jabs at both the right and left prongs of the political partisan. While other larger news giants like FOX news are too busy praising one sect of political dis-thought that it borderlines fellatio. With that in mind it is necessary we have The Daily Show to call politicans and figures on their shit, since clearly CNN has failed to do so in several reports as of late for fear of insulting anyone in their “fanbase”.

    Also, the only reason The Daily Show seems to display a lean to the left is because at the moment, the ones easiest to mock are “the right”.

  • Critical?

    Ok, lets critique The Daily Show (TDS). They certainly have their moments of superficiality, like having the guy who came in 2nd on American Idol being ass-kissed by Stewart, or a pointless Dwight Yoakam appearance alongside sometimes superficially liberal positions. But for TDS, these are rarities as opposed to its normal content. For a more standard look see the recent Colbert bit “Popping a Big Tent” where a porn couple discuss their sudden shift to the Republican party. By layering adult movies with the GOP’s blatant efforts to appear ‘inclusive’, TDS humorously unravels the claim that the GOP (or the Democrats for that matter) are not primarily white, male and christian. This ‘reality bit’ considers important questions re: partisanship (for the couple it was about the ‘winning’ side), censorship, token-inclusiveness and news as entertainment, becoming a subtle, self-reflexive multi-layered critique NEVER to be found on Fox, CNN or where ever.

    Now, that’s not to say “fake news” is better or worse, but TDS is cognizant of its bias, willing to make fun of itself and responsible enough to call out those in power who blatantly contradict themselves and speak to us like we’re 12 years old.

  • TDS in Dialogue

    TDS rarely if ever tries to assert that it is speaking Truth, or that it is creating History. So it’s Fool-ish (as in medieval fool), in that its audience knows that its words aren’t coming from a pretender to or usurper of the throne. By contrast, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity aren’t playing — they want you, unequivocally, to turn off their program with a very certain view. If you don’t, you’re Wrong. Sit back, they say, and we will tell you How It Is. Thus, it seems to me that the discursive registers on which each operates are very different. And so I must disagree with John (not Jon) Stewart’s comments that suggest we should respond to each in a similar manner.

    Sure, some criticism of the show is required. But let’s not lump it in with Fox! To tie in with Jason Mittell’s recent column, and with recent calls on Flow for greater participation in media reform, as media critics, we need to be able to point to those texts that have quality, and to those texts that are modelling what a better media system would be like. And with Brian Ott, I feel that if more students are watching TDS, that’s great. After all, the point isn’t that this is ALL they watch — it’s a response to the other stuff they watch, read, or hear.

    Moreover, just as TDS is dialogic, so too is the response to it. As long as mainstream American news misses the mark, we should glow about TDS, not because it’s got it all right, but because it acts as a constant reminder of its colleagues’ problems. If the media is meant to provide checks and balances on all forms of power in a society, it’s encouraging — if all too rare — that a show such as TDS provides checks and balances on the media itself, and on its own power (doing so in a much more sophisticated manner than tediously crying “bias! bias!”)

  • Whatever

    “FoxNews is ridiculously biased and it claims to be fair and balanced.”

    Liberals claim this CONSTANTLY but never actually cite an example. A UCLA/Stanford study found Fox News to be the most centrist news organization.

    Most liberals only hate Fox News because it dares to air conservative viewpoints on the same level as it does liberal viewpoints, unlike CNN and other outlets that air conservatives with derision and trumpet liberalism.

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