Friday, August 21, 2009

She's right about one thing: this is "disgusting"

Why yes, I did watch the Jon Stewart/Betsy McCaughey interview, although only the part that was broadcast (I'd had more than enough by the time that was over). Basically, what James Fallows said sums it up: "She is just making it up, as anyone who has followed her work over the decades will know." I haven't followed her work, but it was still glaringly obvious to me that she was full of it. And given how little I know about legislation, health care, etc., I find it downright alarming that it was so easy for me to tell that all her talking points are arrant nonsense. It was also obvious that her preparation for the interview consisted not of boning up on the facts -- or even on her version of the facts -- but rather of putting on her game face. Smile like a beauty-pageant contestant; act like the audience is on your side; refuse to notice when you've been called out.

Fallows doesn't mention my very favorite part, which comes at about 3:45, when McCaughey first starts randomly flipping through her intimidating binder. ("How could I not know what I'm talking about when I have this big prop with me?") Stewart called her out for being completely dishonest and wrong about something or other in the bill, and by way of rebuttal she pointed to a page and said, "Guess what, the first time I read it I wrote 'disgusting.' See? 'Disgusting.'" Oh well that changes EVERYthing. Your interpretation must be correct, because your alleged emotional reaction backs it up!

Jon Stewart has been doing more and more "serious" interviews recently. The fact that he's become an important figure in the public discourse as an interviewer, and not just as a satirist, is partly a testament to him and his show, but just as much a testament to how pathetic and cowardly actual television news shows are these days. But he's still, at heart, a comedian, which manifests itself in ways that irritate me. In particular, he's always looking to riff on whatever his interviewee has just said with a punch line that redirects attention to himself. I don't care about this when he's talking to a movie star (in those cases I usually just turn the interview off). But when he's talking to someone who actually has some valuable information to communicate, I'd rather he didn't keep trying to steal the ball back. And when he's talking to someone who's spreading misinformation, as McCaughey was, I'd rather he didn't let them off the hook with a joke, as he does here. That tension in the room -- that incredulous "...Seriously, that's your argument?" burst of laughter from the studio audience -- is what makes this good TV. That's not the moment to open the valve and make everyone comfortable again.

Since I've been on an Arrested Development kick, I probably would have channeled Maeby Funke if it were up to me to reply: "Let's just sit quietly and consider how ridiculous that statement was."

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