JON STEWART is a comic genius but is he a journalist? As far as the US media academic Marty Kaplan is concerned, after 15 years on air, Stewart's The Daily Show produces some of the best journalism in America.
''I'd be glad for a 24-hour comedy news channel,'' he said after teaching a class at the University of Sydney's US Studies Centre this week. ''Typically, on an American news show, a major story runs a minute and a half. A Jon Stewart segment can be six, seven minutes.
''You can't get the jokes on Jon Stewart unless you understand what it's about. He takes the time to explain stuff to you and, in doing that, he's a journalist. He denies that; he says he's a fake journalist. I can understand why he says that but, just by running video, he's both conveying information and juxtaposing the clips - whether it's a news source or a politician - he's holding people accountable.''
The professor of media, entertainment and society at the University of Southern California and Huffington Post blogger said: ''That strikes me as the best journalism going on anywhere right now.''
Professor Kaplan pointed to one study that tested people on current affairs. Those who watched local television news did worst, and those who watched The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert did best.
Another study, by the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, found those who watched late-night comedy programs, a particularly American phenomenon (although the Ten Network's 7pm Project shares elements of it), were more likely to be familiar with the positions of presidential candidates than those who did not.
And in a study Professor Kaplan led of television news in Los Angeles, every minute of news broadcast on every channel was counted and analysed to form a composite half-hour of news. In such a broadcast, five minutes would be spent on sport and weather, three minutes on crime and two-and-a-half minutes on entertainment. By contrast, the local economy would get 29 seconds of coverage, and the combined total for every level of government would be just 22 seconds.
''There's an industry of consultants telling local station owners and managers that politics and public affairs is ratings poison,'' Professor Kaplan said. ''You go there, people will change the channel.''
But good reporters saw politics as drama, with personality, conflict, narrative and suspense, and delivered it in that way, rather than declaring something inherently too complicated or dull to sell.
''You don't have to dumb it down to tell it that way, you just have to tell a story,'' Professor Kaplan said. ''If you apply to politics and public affairs the same skills that you're so brilliant at applying to crime and scandal and sex, then you will grab and hold your audiences and be No. 1 in your market.''
Obama's starting point was a demand for a "clean," unencumbered bill to raise the ceiling; House Speaker John Boehner said no. What would have happened if Obama refused to budge? We don't know because that's not his style. It would be nice, someday, to find out.
- Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, 8/1/2011
The United States of America is different today, different in a fundamental and dramatic way, and is a better place now only for a few thousand people who are rich enough to remain above the effect of this transformation. For the rest of us, the 99% who stay up nights worrying about health care bills, retirement, finding a job, keeping a job, and aging parents who now dangle above a deliberately frayed safety net, it is a colder and more dangerous country we call home.
If I hear one more person try to tell me the deal cut between Congress and the White House was as good as we can expect, that it isn't all bad, I might vomit on them. This whole thing has been a disaster, and no amount of spin can alter the fact. Mr. Obama has taken to the habit of abject retreat with such gusto that he should be outfitted with one of those beeping devices they put on trucks to alert people when they go in reverse. At least that way, we will have some warning the next time this Democratic president backs away from the very policies and priorities he was elected to protect and defend.
We sure could have used such a signal during this debt-fight calamity.
I want a clean debt bill. Beep-beep-beep, never mind.
I want, no, I demand revenue enhancements - not from new taxes, but from closing loopholes - and I will reject any bill that does not include them. Beep-beep-beep, forget I said that.
We must protect Social Security and Medicare. Beep-beep-beep, but now I look good to Independent voters, or something, right?
It has become an all too familiar sound, really.
I will close Guantanamo. Beep-beep-beep.
There needs to be a public option in the health care reform bill. Beep-beep-beep.
The Bush-era tax cuts? Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep.
An interesting thing happens when someone backs up. They get smaller in your vision, receding slowly but surely until they are all but invisible. So it is with this president, who goes into the 2012 election season a small fraction of the man who would supposedly make history.
George W. Bush took the historic budget surplus left by President Clinton and squandered it on tax cuts, further enriching those few thousand people who didn't need the money. Mr. Bush delivered us into crushing debt with two interminable wars, which many of those few thousand people continue to profit from wildly. A number of those people - the Wall Street and banking magnates - are directly and personally responsible for the recklessness and greed that very nearly annihilated the American economy, and as of this date, not only have they eluded justice for their crimes, but have been richly rewarded.
They were rewarded again with this bill. Try to spin it any other way, and you're wasting your time with me. They were rewarded, and the weight of that reward will fall on your neck and mine. Again.
As bad as this situation is, it could have been a great deal worse. "Cut, Cap and Balance" would have blown the economy to the far side of the moon, as would Boehner's initial failed attempt at this legislation. There are cuts to the defense budget, and the social safety net did not take it in the teeth as savagely as the berserkers within the GOP caucus desired. And, yes, we did manage to avoid defaulting on the debt limit for the first time in history.
That is hardly the point. In the end, Mr. Obama accepted the premise proffered by the GOP that the debt limit increase had to be tied to massive cuts. This was simply not true, and he failed utterly to make this clear. He demanded new tax revenues from closed loopholes be part of the deal, and then surrendered that position. He swore to protect the social safety net, and spent virtually the entire debate trying to give it away.
This was not a case of two steps forward and one step back, but was instead no steps forward and two steps back. The kind of cuts included in this bill are exactly, precisely the wrong medicine  for an ailing economy, and for the people who make up that economy. We now stare down the yawning barrel of a double-dip recession, and that's only if we're lucky.
Worst of all, Mr. Obama has proven to the Tea Party nutjobs that hostage-taking works, that threatening not only the American economy but the global economy with comprehensive disaster is a proper way to pursue policy initiatives. Imagine if a member of the House Insanity Caucus had broken into a nuclear missile silo and threatened to launch unless Reagan's face was carved on Mt. Rushmore...and got what he wanted, and was allowed to go free.
What's next? You really think they won't try this again at the first opportunity? Of course they will, and why not? It worked like a charm.
They got away with it, just like Mr. Bush and his cronies got away with lying us into war while bankrupting the country, just like the "defense" contractors who skimmed billions from the war funding, just like the Wall Streeters and banksters who stole our future from us.
They got away with it, and so they will try it again somewhere down the road...and there will be Mr. Obama, receding slowly into the distance. Again.