News programs have been around since “The March of Time,” a 10-minute news summary, broadcast in 1928. Daily newscasts today give the viewer an overview of the day’s most important and most interesting events. In recent years, news shows with a satirical twist have emerged. However these newer shows are negatively affecting society and taking away from more “newsworthy” sources.
News is information on current events which is presented by print, broadcast, internet, or word of mouth to a third party or mass audience. The development of news programs goes all the way back to 1928. However, in 1938 it was Edward R. Murrow who launched the first regular broadcast of daily news on radio, the World Today program on CBS. Television news came into the picture in 1948 when Douglas Edwards started the “CBS TV News” which was produced by Don Hewitt. These early news programs created the basic structure for shows to come. Important events of the day were reported in a serious tone when necessary, a bit lighter tone if the news were positive.
Today, the structure of news shows has followed the general rule of maintaining journalistic integrity. However, in recent years, shows that make fun of the news have been thrown into the picture. Policies of political officials, candidates, etcetera, are often analyzed. As with politics in general these policies will be liked by some, and despised by others.
Satirizing the news began with newspapers, one of which was titled, “The Onion”, back in 1988. “The Onion” features articles satirizing the news in every way imaginable. This paper is presented in a professional manner and has, in the past, been cited by serious news stations mistaking information to be true. This was a problem and began the wave of twisting the news to something it was not intended to be: fake. Some of the not as newsworthy television shows include
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,
The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, and the newscast segment titled “Weekend Update” on
Saturday Night Live. The point of all three of these shows is to put a satirical twist on the news. As indicated on the website of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart,
One anchor, five correspondents, zero credibility…The Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Daily Show takes a reality-based look at news, trends, pop culture, current events, politics, sports and entertainment with an alternative point of view. (‘About’ page on www.TheDailyShow.com)
The striking phrase seen in this quote has got to be, “reality-based”. Although they introduce stories with factual information often presented first on network news programs, the way the story is twisted is good enough to lessen the value and credibility of factual information. American journalist Howard Kurtz wrote about the issue of “fake news” in his publication titled,
Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War. In an excerpt from the work, Kurtz discusses
The Daily Show,
‘I am not a general,’ Stewart said, ‘but I believe that if you are going to wage a full ground war against the United States, you need at least as many people as, say, a softball team.’ After the video of Gonzales’s awkward silence, Stewart provided the analysis: ‘These deadly international terrorists had very slyly disguised themselves as dipshits living in a warehouse…no weapons, no actual contact with al-Qaeda, but one of them had been to Chicago.’…In a few short minutes Stewart had managed to do what the network newscasts had not, which was make the administration look ridiculous for hyping a sad group of wannabes as a big-time threat. (page 104)
Kurtz’s response to this quote focuses on the fact that Stewart had made a point the network newscasts had not. Stewart and other hosts of similar shows may begin with some factual information when introducing a story; however, the truth is quickly turned into fiction. Yes, in this country we, as a society, are brought up knowing we have the right to speak our mind. This being said, battering the current Presidential administration is a huge risk that Stewart takes. As pointed out in the journal “The Forward 50” in 2003, “Now at the top of his game, the self-anointed ‘king of fake news’ continues to flavor his show with his distinctly Jewish sensibility.” Jon Stewart himself has stated that he knows what he presents to his audience is “fake news”. This says a great deal about the way many perceive his show. The “Jewish sensibility” input to the show also raises some concerns. If Jon Stewart is favoring Jewish people or comes across as taking a side when it comes to religious issues, this is a problem. The American public needs to obtain their news information from
journalists. A journalist never takes a side in an argument or story. Journalistic code demands the need to stay unbiased. If the public views Jon Stewart as a journalist and he seems to take sides with certain issues, then this shows the urgency in needing to educate laymen about where legitimate news information comes from. According to Lily Stolzberg, reporter for News12 Long Island, these shows are leaving the youth population with the wrong idea of what news is and how news was originally meant to be presented:
“I have had friends tell me that they get all their news from folks like Jon Stewart. I have to admit I cringe when hearing that. That is simply frightening…When it comes to the matters of our country and the world, it is important to try and decipher fact from fiction. While our busy lives don’t always allow for the opportunity to read a variety of newspapers or watch every newscast, it is still up to an individual to know the difference between entertainment and truth.”
Other than the fact that what is said during these programs is not 100 percent truthful, it is important to discuss whether the anchors of such shows go too far with what they say. The first thing that comes to mind is the freedom of speech. In the first amendment to the Constitution it states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This freedom gives the right of the people to express themselves however they feel. In the media, especially news spoof shows and segments, it is often wondered if a limit on how freely an anchor can express themselves should be set. Rules and regulations set by organizations such as the FCC control some aspects of a show, but when does an anchor cross the line? Presently, it is often too late to correct an amplified statement that stirs up controversy in the media. Censoring these news shows that are based on little morals should be highly considered.
With the idea of protecting the sanity of news regarding the aforementioned shows set aside for now, talk show hosts face similar controversial topics during their monologues. Late night television contains many instances where satirizing the news comes into play. Talk show hosts such as Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O’Brien often face criticism for the comments they make. Many times in their opening monologues jokes about politics are made. Now although most viewers would not take what these hosts say to be one hundred percent true, these satirical remarks do raise some questions. For instance, how would a joke about a presidential candidate with a negative connotation affect the stance of a supporter of that candidate? At this point these and similar questions are difficult to answer. However, it is possible that any comment that’s not completely true about a specific person or topic could have an impact on someone for the wrong reasons.
With all of the satire and misrepresentation of the facts when it comes to these news segments, trust can become a major issue. Knowing who to trust and when to trust them can be extremely difficult. This is where responsible journalism takes over. Network news programs stick to what they know and are generally cautious with how news stories are presented. However, some people feel you cannot fully trust even these programs.
“I just feel the truth isnt so clear sometimes, but they present it anyway”, said eighteen year old student Chris Parker. He added, “Any organization that controls the actions of the people is not to be trusted. If news stations wanted to they could start a mass panic in this country just by making up a story. Anything with that much power needs to be cautioned.”
In response to Chris’ comment on cautioning the news out of television stations, Ms. Stolzberg had this to say, “While these shows in some cases provide great entertainment they are simply that. I find it disturbing that many people get their news from sources like the Jon Stewart show and trust what they are hearing is truth.” Since the installment of news programs by Mr. Murrow, a certain bond has formed between the viewer and the anchor. By watching a news programs for an extended amount of time, the viewer learns to accept what the anchor or reporter is saying to be fact. There is a huge trust factor that comes in to play here. If that trust is not felt, as it should not be with satirical news programs, then the viewer cannot accept that information to be completely factual. With sixty years of programming and coverage of an endless amount of events, generally the public has come to accept most of what is shown on regular news shows. According to an article published in the “Toronto Star”, a Canadian newspaper, last year, journalists are holding “themselves accountable to higher ethical standards than ever before.” Although an Ontario court ruling has given media in Canada “…greater scope to publish information we believe our readers have a legitimate right to know – even if the truth of reported statements that could harm an individual’s reputation cannot be proved in court.” In America, newsrooms across the country have to be sure to only release the facts for the sole reason of not making truth of rumored reports.
The development of satirical news and the controversy surrounding it may be around forever. The thing to remember is to take these shows for what they are worth. When looking for serious news stories, coverage of national events, in depth analysis on politician’s views, etcetera, a local news program or one of the national news networks is the way to go. Never lose sight of the facts, and for that those serious news programs will never let you down.