Joe Gandelman, 10/16/2014 [Archive]

Meet the Comedy Central Press

Independent's Eye by Joe Gandelman

In what has been a season of jaw-dropping news, the latest bombshell seems like it was ripped from the pages of Mad Magazine.

First, the terrorist group ISIS has now unquestionably emerged as a territory-gobbling group offering the same kind of brutal, merciless murder of men, women and children that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis offered during the 20th century. Hitler had a country to back up and implement his ideological and racist blood lust. ISIS doesn't have a country -- yet.

Next, another shock:it turns out the Ebola virus isn't just limited to Africa and largely contained. Deadly Ebola dominates the news -- and fears-- of Americans. Now the news media has a genuinely compelling story, and partisans have an issue they can use to point to and blame the other side for enabling or bungling.

And then came a bit of jaw-dropping news that seemed as if it absolutely MUST be from The Onion, or written by news parody genius Andy Borowitz.

NBC was wooing -- no joke...not kidding ya... 100 percent for real.. really, I'm serious -- Comedy Central's mega-talented Jon Stewart to host "Meet the Press," the longest running show in American television history. They were willing to offer big bucks to do it and, according to the report that revealed the network's r-e-a-l mindset, had even been talking to Stewart's agent.

The revelation -- stunning to those who still cherish traditional news values -- came in a must-read piece on New York magazines' "Daily Intelligencer" page.Gabriel Sherman wrote: "One source explained that NBC was prepared to offer Stewart virtually 'anything' to bring him over. 'They were ready to back the Brink's truck up,' the source said. A spokesperson for NBC declined to comment. James Dixon, Stewart's agent, did not respond to multiple requests for comment."

Any journalist knows that when the subject of a story refuses comment it might really mean "no comment," but it usually means the tidbit is true and the subject hopes not commenting will make the story go away.

Which it basically did. Sure, for a few days cable and Internet pundits expressed bemusement or disbelief. But what happened hereis a shocking revelation how little r-e-a-l journalism is respected today when "the get" becomes the goal.

How unthinkable would it once have been to seriously consider hiring a talented comedian to take over what has long been a solid news franchise? Toying with hiring Stewart to host Meet the Press brings back memories of another network's first big step in undermining the 1950s concept of broadcast news as a sacred trust -- when CBS 1966 decided it wouldn't air government hearings on Vietnam and instead opted for "I Love Lucy" re-runs.

Before cable, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, the big three broadcast networks would run government hearings on monster issues dominating the news. You could channel surf and see the same, exact live event on all of the networks because all network bigwigs individually feltit was vitally important for broadcast news in its role as a public trust to cover it.In 1966, CBS didn't pull back from undermining this once sacred tenet:it ran the popular re-runs.

And CBS paid an immediate price for this first step towards a long slide down a slippery slope. It's decision cost the network a legendary newsman: CBS News President Fred Friendly, quit when he was told the hearings wouldn't be run and Lucy Ricardo would run instead because "housewives weren't much interested in Vietnam."

In Stewart's case, NBC felt a host who could interview and offer some big yucks could reap big ratings andbig bucks. What next? Could CBS try to get David Letterman to take over for "Face the Nation's" Bob Schieffer? Could clowns take over for members of Congress? (Wait, that already happened.)

NBC's choice of Chuck Toddmeans Meet the Press remains the show that for more than a half century has symbolized the phrase "broadcast journalism."For now.

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Copyright 2014 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panelsand is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He also writes for The Week's online edition. CNN's John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at jgandelman@themoderatevoice.com and can be booked to speak at www.mavenproductions.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joegandelman

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinion are solely those of the author.

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