by Joanna D'Angelo

I'm sure most of you heard about/watched or maybe even attended the Rally to Restore Sanity on Saturday Oct. 30th.

Conceived and hosted by the Daily Show's Jon Stewart and the Colbert's Report Stephen Colbert - the rally drew crowds estimated at tens of thousands (according to NPR)  to hundreds of thousands (CBS) to more than 250,000.  Evidently Glenn Beck's rally drew about 87,000 people. So what does this mean?  Well, for one thing - Stewart and Colbert have a lot of fans.  But, not necessarily that the rally will give birth to any political movement akin to the Tea Party.  Because let's face it - Stewart himself joked that the rally was for people who are always too busy to go to rallies.

I'm Canadian - so nothing I say really matters anyway.  But one of our past times up here - when we're not watching hockey or rolling up the rim at Tim's is observing American culture. 

I did not attend the rally.  And being up north in the hinterland meant that I couldn't watch live coverage on Comedy Central because we don't get Comedy Central.  In fact, when I google "Comedy Central" - I get re-directed to Canada's Comedy Network.


I did watch excerpts on the news and from what I could see - there were some fun signs at the event.

But what was the message?

Well, it's the same message that runs through Stewart and Colbert's hit shows - each and every night.

That the news media today spends too much time creating a culture of fear and sensationalising the trivial.  But the undercurrent is that the conservative right has all the crack-pots (Bill Maher was pretty vocal about this on his show on Friday night).  And the left has all the reasonable people.  But if you were in downtown Toronto during the G20 Summit in June or watched the coverage on the news then I'm sure you will agree that the left has an equal number of crack-pots as well.

Stewart makes a point of addressing the crack-pot issues on his show but given the fact that I watch The Daily Show every night I can tell you that the pendulum of craziness swings most often to the extreme right.

But, let me get back to the news media - and namely the cable news outlets and their ongoing coverage of the events of the day.  It's quite evident that the news outlets no longer simply report the news and offer intelligent commentary from both sides of a debate. No, they are far too busy celebritising (read "creating celebrities") who then go on to book deals, recording contracts and nightly appearances on TMZ, reality shows, or who end up becoming pundits on the very same news net that "discovered" them.

Stewart's main culprit is Fox News but he doles punches (or rather) punchlines out to MSNBC as well (but Fox really has become Stewart's main inspiration). CNN ends up being an even bigger joke because they pretend to be the unbiased and fair cable news outfit but they tend to flip flop between extremes on a regular basis. Not to mention how can we take CNN seriously for hiring former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to fill in their 8 pm time slot of revolving door mis-fires? I'm sorry, but when I see Spitzer, all I can think of is "Client 9".

What we now have are cable news networks that go beyond having a position or point of view - they have a "narrative". And that narrative has an agenda. But unlike Stewart and Colbert, I don't believe that the narrative is based on a political agenda (at least not completely). I think the narrative is based on entertainment value which leads to big ratings.  The kind of entertainment that the news nets provide is the equivalent of a high speed car chase in an action movie - heck sometimes it is a high speed car chase (remember O.J. Simpson and the white Ford Bronco?) Or mad cap adventure (recall the Balloon Boy who wasn't even in the balloon).   Political reporting is akin to watching a Western where the heroes are the defenders of traditional American values and the villains are  - well, you get where I'm going with this. ;)

Maybe it's something inherent in TV news. I majored in journalism at university and I remember my Prof. in TV used to rave about the "production values" of Entertainment Tonight. He used to say that showcasing Mary Hart's legs with an open desk was a smart move for ratings.  My friends and I used to laugh about that.  What the heck does showing Mary Hart's gams have to do with news?  Oh, we were so naive back then.

I recognise that the news nets have 24 hrs to fill and they need to keep eyeballs on their network so they can keep the advertising dollars rolling in.  But I also think the public should be given something more palatable to digest than junk food journalism.

One final thought - although Stewart's message is clear - each and every night on his show - the news media never seems interested in reporting on that element of the story.



  1. This is what I love about Jon Stewart. He points out the absurdities, calls people, left and right on their stuff. He makes things happen. (A rally with nearly a quarter million people? Jeez!)

    I think that is awesome.

    I voted today. Then worked. Then participated in filming my Book Trailer.

    Right, Left, middle of the road. Just show up and participate to get things moving.

    Tx for the post, Joanna.


  2. Hey Pam: I def. agree with you - voting is still the way we express our democratic freedom (as limiting as the choices sometimes may be). It is important. I enjoy Stewart's humour as well. Thanks for the comment!

  3. My husband and I are massive fans of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert - we end our day laughing at both shows. So we were pretty pumped for their rally, and very, very proud of the spirit in which people took part in it. Especally all the hilarious signage.

    It's true what you mentioned about left-wing nut cases, and the fact that the right wing doesn't own the patent on them. However, the biggest and most important difference between Glenn Beck's rally and the Stewart/Colbert rally:

    Daily Show/Colbert Report fans showed up with thoughtful signs because they recognized they were a part of a political satire event.

    Beck's protesters didn't realize that they, too, were part of a political entertainment event, because even Glenn Beck doesn't know what role he's playing. But I have to say I look forward to every montage of him crying that gets played on The Daily Show.

  4. Excellent point Julia - Glenn Beck is part of that entertainment machine and - you're right his supporters take him seriously.


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