The jokes are on us, and so are the lies – Williams & Stewart

Editor’s Note – Over the weekend, the NY Post published an opinion piece by Kyle Smith that examined the way people get their news, who they believe, and why, in a manner that nails it on the head. Well done Kyle Smith!

His piece addresses two major figures in the news recently, Brian Williams of NBC, and Jon Stewart of the Daily Show – and all the lies!

In a well-written, well-researched, and amusing critique of Stewart’s recent show where he tackled and defended Brian Williams, it represents the answer to the questions above.

He concludes the article by saying: “Brian Williams has become a joke for telling lies, but Jon Stewart is a liar for the way he told jokes.” Couldn’t have said it better.

To be frank, Smith did what we wish we could have done and have been trying for years, showing how societal memes rule the day. Showing how lies become ‘truth,’ and showing how disingenuous the media is today.

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Bill O’Reilly might take a valuable lesson from Smith’s piece, so the next time he gives air time to Stewart, he doesn’t lend legitimacy to Stewart so undeservedly. Alan Colmes, Juan Williams, Rachel Maddow, and Kiersten Powers could also learn a thing or two here.

If it ain’t “cool,” eyes glaze over, if it isn’t entertaining, yawns abound, if it ain’t pretty, the thumb on the clicker couldn’t hit ‘next’ fast enough. If it’s about how the left is lazy, hides, spreads lies, or rattles on with tired and untrue memes…crickets! Again, thank you Kyle Smith.

The only thing Smith did not address was the 800 pound ‘lying gorilla’ on all our screens daily; Obama – he of the liar-of-the-year fame. But then again, we all know that already – right? After all, this piece is already long, but well worth the read!

How Jon Stewart turned lies into comedy and brainwashed a generation

So Brian Williams goes out (for six months) humiliated and derided. Jon Stewart goes out (permanently, one hopes) the same day, but on a giant Comedy Homecoming King float, with a 21-gun salute from the media, his path strewn with roses and teardrops.

Why? Brian Williams lied about his personal exploits a few times. Jon Stewart was unabashedly and habitually dishonest.

Though Stewart has often claimed he does a “fake news show,” “The Daily Show” isn’t that. It’s a real news show punctuated with puns, jokes, asides and the occasional moment of staged sanctimony.

It contains real, unstaged sound bites about the day’s events and interviews about important policy matters.

Stewart is a journalist: an irresponsible and unprofessional one.

Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart onstage at O’Reilly Vs. Stewart 2012: The Rumble In The Air-Conditioned Auditorium. Photo: Getty Images
Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart onstage at O’Reilly Vs. Stewart 2012: The Rumble In The Air-Conditioned Auditorium.
Photo: Getty Images

He is especially beloved by others in the journo game. (For every 100 viewers, he generated about 10 fawning profiles in the slicks, all of them saying the same thing: The jester tells the truth!)

Any standard liberal publication was as likely to contain an unflattering thought about Stewart as L’Osservatore Romano is to run a hit piece on the pope.

The hacks have a special love for Stewart because he’s their id. They don’t just think he’s funny, they thrill to his every sarcastic quip. They wish they could get away with being so one-sided, snarky and dismissive.

They wish they could skip over all the boring phone calls and the due diligence and the pretend fairness and just blurt out to their ideological enemies in Stewart style, “What the f–k is wrong with you?”

Most other journalists aren’t allowed to swear or to slam powerful figures (lest they be denied chances to interview them in future). Their editors make them tone down their opinions and cloak them behind weasel words like “critics say.” Journalists have to dress up in neutrality drag every day, and it’s a bore.

Yet Stewart uses his funnyman status as a license to dispense with even the most minimal journalistic standards. Get both sides of the story? Hey, I’m just a comedian, man. Try to be responsible about what the real issues are? Dude, that’s too heavy, we just want to set up the next d- -k joke.

Stewart is often derided by the right as having minimal impact and low ratings. That’s not true. He and Stephen Colbert ruled the late-night ratings among 18- to 34-year-olds for most of the last five years, though Jimmy Fallon has lately surpassed both.

Jon Stewart’s defense of Brian Williams was “The Daily Show” in a nutshell — laugh off a scandal and change the subject. Photo: Getty Images
Jon Stewart’s defense of Brian Williams was “The Daily Show” in a nutshell — laugh off a scandal and change the subject.
Photo: Getty Images

About 522,000 Americans in that age range watch “The Daily Show” on an average night, but that means many millions of occasional viewers, with millions more watching clips online.

To a key audience, he was a strong influence. Longtime Cooper Union history professor Fred Siegel says his students constantly came to him repeating Stewart’s talking points.

College students, of course, are both little acquainted with realities of adult existence and walled off from conservative views, so they’re the perfect audience for Stewart’s shtick, which depends on assumptions that are as unquestioned as they are false.

This week’s “Daily Show” segment in which Stewart defended Williams was distilled, Everclear-strength Stewart. It was as amazing as watching Barbra Streisand run through a medley of her greatest hits in only seven minutes: In this little chunk of error, cliche, preening and deception, Stewart managed to pack an example of just about everything that is unbearable about his style. It bears close study.

Stewart made some mild jokes at the anchordude’s expense, interrupted with insufferable Jerry Lewis-style mugging, baby talk, high-pitched silly voices and the inevitable reference to whether Williams was “high” (authority figures getting high: always comedy gold to the campus audience).

Stewart slipped in a line of blatant editorializing: “Being caught is punishment enough, no?” Really? Why? If so, argue it, don’t just point the sheep in the direction you want.

Williams is a news anchor. A guy whose three main skills are being good-looking, an ability to read the English language out loud and seeming credible. To put his case in Stewart-ese: “If you want to be considered a trustworthy source of facts, maybe try NOT LYING!!!”

Declaring that media coverage of Williams’ lies was “overkill,” Stewart then built a wedding cake of bullcrap, layer after layer of untruth.

His first move was to change the subject. He used a variant of the rhetorical fallacy known as the “tu quoque” argument, or calling out alleged hypocrisy. Taken to its endpoint, tu quoque (“you, too”) reasoning means no one would ever slam anyone for anything because, hey, we’re all imperfect.

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Tu quoque-ism is a generally meaningless gotcha game that can, of course, be turned right around on Stewart: Hey, Jon, you really think you’re the guy to call foul on nuking media personalities who have made misstatements?

In high dudgeon, as though the thought weren’t already a cliche we’d all seen many times on Twitter and Facebook, Stewart declared sarcastically, “Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq War.”

Then came the inevitable gotcha sound bites: News figures discussing intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s WMD program. Why such a bizarre tangent into an unrelated matter? Because in Stewart’s mind, and those of his viewers, everything has to be the fault of an evil Republican, preferably George W. Bush.

Near the end of the segment, Stewart, with the prototypical combination of blustering self-righteousness and sarcasm that crystallizes his appeal to the college mentality, wondered whether the news shows will now start examining the “media malfeasance that led our country into the most catastrophic foreign policy decision in decades.”

Then (using comic bathos) Stewart cut to more newscasters making apparently trivial points about Williams’ lying. Stewart’s logic is this: The media can’t report negatively on anything anymore, because they dropped the ball on Iraq.

Stewart doesn’t actually believe that: It’s just a cheap gambit meant to get his buddy Williams off the hook by minimizing his serial lying. If Stewart were a public defender, he’d be even funnier than he is as a comic.

What judge or jury could fail to bust out laughing if a defense attorney said, “I have no rebuttal of any of the charges against my client, but lots of other people not in this courtroom are guilty of stuff, too!”?LiesQuoteLenin

I look forward to the next time a Republican assistant municipal treasurer in Dirt Falls, Idaho, says something awkward about race and Stewart says, “I forgive this guy given that the actual vice president of the United States once said of Barack Obama, ‘I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.’”

Let’s look at the media reports on Iraq that Stewart is arguing make Williams’ untruths pale in comparison. Problem: Those reports were not lies. Journalists trying to figure out whether the war was justified called up credible experts with experience in the field and passed along what they said. As a more honest version of Stewart might say, “Dude. That’s not malfeasance. That’s Re. Por. Ting.”

Stewart added that “it’s like the Bush administration hired Temple Grandin to build a machine that kills the truth.” Even the audience of devotees seemed to find this simile baffling.

The idea that “Bush lied” is itself a lazy, ill-informed and false statement.

As Judge Laurence Silberman, co-chairman of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week, essentially nobody in the Washington intelligence community doubted the major report that Iraq had an active WMD program in 2002.

Obama.Bush.LiesThe National Intelligence Estimate delivered to the Senate and President Bush said there was a 90 percent certainty of WMDs. Democrat George Tenet, the Clinton CIA director who continued to serve under Bush, said the case for WMDs was a “slam dunk.”

John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and Joe Biden all looked at the intelligence and voted to authorize force. Sen. Jay Rockefeller argued strongly for the war. Then, years later, when it wasn’t going so well, he published a highly politicized report ripping Bush.

There is a serious case to be made against the Iraq War, but it’s a lot more complicated than the playground taunt, “Bush lied about WMDs.” (“Hey, I’m a comic, you expect me to do serious? Please welcome our next guest, Henry Kissinger!”)

Yet another lie on top of that is the absurd implication that the news media were too soft on Bush. The only way you could possibly consider the media to be too conservative would be if you were an extremist well to their left, which Stewart is.

During the Iraq War buildup, even as overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress authorized the use of force, 59 percent of the sound bites aired by the evening newscasts were antiwar, 29 percent pro-war.

To take another of innumerable examples, in 2006 Bush had about the same approval ratings that Obama suffered in 2014. The network news both commissioned far more polls when Bush stood to suffer, and reported on the Bush results far more.

Again, this isn’t close: The score was 52 to 2, as in 52 mentions of low Bush approval ratings versus two mentions of (even lower, at times) Obama approval ratings.

In every Gallup poll this century, more Americans called the media “too liberal” than “too conservative.” The numbers were 45 to 15 in 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion. In 2008, as Obama was being elected, it was 47 to 13. Last fall it was 44 to 19.

Thanks to polemicists and clowns, the myth that “Bush lied” has caught on, and now a majority of Americans believe it. Stewart-ism won the day.

Liberal comics make things up, liberal journalists chortle and praise and internalize the lies.

Before you know it, if you point out that Bill O’Reilly’s audience is just as well informed as NPR’s (as a Pew poll found), or that Sarah Palin never said, “I can see Russia from my house” (that was “Saturday Night Live”), you’re just a buzzkill.

Brian Williams has become a joke for telling lies, but Jon Stewart is a liar for the way he told jokes.

"Lie of the Year" – Politifact Gets One Correct

Editor’s Note – Lie of the Year – what a turnaround. The Politfact website has been telling the world that those of us who warned America that the ObamaCare law was going to have very disastrous effects on all of us has had to eat their own words. They correctly did so by declaring Obama to have uttered the “lie of the year”.

However, it should be noted that it was uttered annually since 2009. So does that make it the lie of each the previous four years as well? Remember these whoopers? They kind of pale in comparison now don’t they:

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Lie of the Year: ‘If you like your health care plan, you can keep it’

By Angie Drobnic Holan – PolitiFact

It was a catchy political pitch and a chance to calm nerves about his dramatic and complicated plan to bring historic change to America’s health insurance system.

“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” President Barack Obama said — many times — of his landmark new law.

But the promise was impossible to keep.

So this fall, as cancellation letters were going out to approximately 4 million Americans, the public realized Obama’s breezy assurances were wrong.

Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief.  Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology.

For all of these reasons, PolitiFact has named “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” the Lie of the Year for 2013. Readers in a separate online poll overwhelmingly agreed with the choice. (PolitiFact first announced its selection on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper.)Lie of the Year

For four of the past five years, PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year has revolved around the health care law, which has been subject to more erroneous attacks than any other piece of legislation PolitiFact has fact-checked.

Obama’s ideas on health care were first offered as general outlines then grew into specific legislation over the course of his presidency. Yet Obama never adjusted his rhetoric to give people a more accurate sense of the law’s real-world repercussions, even as fact-checkers flagged his statements as exaggerated at best.

Instead, he fought back against inaccurate attacks with his own oversimplifications, which he repeated even as it became clear his promise was too sweeping.

The debate about the health care law rages on, but friends and foes of Obamacare have found one slice of common ground: The president’s “you can keep it” claim has been a real hit to his credibility.

Why the cancellations happened

How did we get to this point?

The Affordable Care Act tried to allow existing health plans to continue under a complicated process called “grandfathering,” which basically said insurance companies could keep selling plans if they followed certain rules.

The problem for insurers was that the Obamacare rules were strict. If the plans deviated even a little, they would lose their grandfathered status. In practice, that meant insurers canceled plans that didn’t meet new standards.

Obama’s team seemed to understand that likelihood. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the grandfathering rules in June 2010 and acknowledged that some plans would go away. Yet Obama repeated “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” when seeking re-election last year.

In 2009 and again in 2012, PolitiFact rated Obama’s statement Half True, which means the statement is partially correct and partially wrong. We noted that while the law took pains to leave some parts of the insurance market alone, people were not guaranteed to keep insurance through thick and thin. It was likely that some private insurers would continue to force people to switch plans, and that trend might even accelerate.

In the final months of 2013, several critical elements of the health care law were being enacted, and media attention was at its height. Healthcare.gov made its debut on Oct. 1. It didn’t take long for the media, the public and Obama’s own team to realize the website was a technological mess, freezing out customers and generally not working.

Also on Oct. 1, insurers started sending out cancellation letters for 2014.

No one knows exactly how many people got notices, because the health insurance market is largely private and highly fragmented. Analysts estimated the number at about 4 million (and potentially higher), out of a total insured population of about 262 million.

That was less than 2 percent, but there was no shortage of powerful anecdotes about canceled coverage.

One example: PBS Newshour interviewed a woman from Washington, D.C., who was a supporter of the health care law and found her policy canceled. New policies had significantly higher rates. She told Newshour that the only thing the new policy covered that her old one didn’t was maternity care and pediatric services. And she was 58.

“The chance of me having a child at this age is zero. So, you know, I ask the president, why do I have to pay an additional $5,000 a year for maternity coverage that I will never, ever need?” asked Deborah Persico.

The administration’s botched response

Initially, Obama and his team didn’t budge.

First, they tried to shift blame to insurers. “FACT: Nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans,” said Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to Obama, on Oct. 28.

PolitiFact rated her statement False. The restrictions on grandfathering were part of the law, and they were driving cancellations.

Then, they tried to change the subject. “It’s important to remember both before the ACA was ever even a gleam in anybody’s eye, let alone passed into law, that insurance companies were doing this all the time, especially in the individual market because it was lightly regulated and the incentives were so skewed,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

But what really set everyone off was when Obama tried to rewrite his slogan, telling political supporters on Nov. 4, “Now, if you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law, and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.”

Pants on Fire! PolitiFact counted 37 times when he’d included no caveats, such as a high-profile speechto the American Medical Association in 2009: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

Even Obama’s staunchest allies cried foul.

On Nov. 6, columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the public “was entitled to hear the unvarnished truth, not spin, from their president about what they were about to face. I don’t feel good about calling out Obama’s whopper, because I support most of his policies and programs. But in this instance, he would have to be delusional to think he was telling the truth.”

The next day, Obama apologized during a lengthy interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd.

“We weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place, and I want to do everything we can to make sure that people are finding themselves in a good position, a better position than they were before this law happened. And I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” he said.

Political fist-fight

The reaction from conservative talk shows was withering. On Nov. 11, Sean Hannity put Obama’s statements up there with President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” and President Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

On the liberal network MSNBC, Joy-Ann Reid said the Obama administration’s intention was to fight off attacks like the ones that scuttled Clinton’s health proposals in the early 1990s.

“That’s why the administration boiled it down to that, if you like your health care, you can keep it. Big mistake, but it was a mistake that I think came a little bit out of the lesson” of the Clinton years, she said Nov. 12.

Two days later, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi defended Obama’s statement as accurate and blamed insurance companies. “Did I ever tell my constituents that, if they like their plan, they could keep it? I would have, if I’d ever met anybody who liked his or her plan, but that was not my experience,” she said.

Obama offered an administrative fix that same day, allowing state insurance commissioners to extend current plans. But only some have chosen to do so.

In announcing the fix, Obama again conceded he had exaggerated. “There is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate,” he said. “It was not because of my intention not to deliver on that commitment and that promise.  We put a grandfather clause into the law, but it was insufficient.”

It is too soon to say what the lasting impact of “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” will be.

The president’s favorability ratings have tumbled in recent weeks.

Pew Research/USA Today poll conducted Dec. 3-8 found the percentage of people viewing Obama as “not trustworthy” has risen 15 points over the course of the year, from 30 percent to 45 percent.

Much depends on the law’s continuing implementation and other events during Obama’s final three years in office, said Larry Sabato, a political scientist who runs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Still, Obama has work to do to win back public trust, Sabato said.

“A whole series of presidents developed credibility gaps, because people didn’t trust what they were saying anymore. And that’s Obama’s real problem,” he said. “Once you lose the trust of a substantial part of the American public, how do you get it back?”