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Newsmen, Comedian, Or Both?



Take your pick, because your guess is as good as the Monitor’s: The Pooh-Bahs at CBS News are either (a) completely clueless or (b) utterly disinclined to dispel the widespread perception that the network, particularly its news operation, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

The president of CBS Television, Les Moonves, is said to be thinking of trying to lure Today show co-host Katie Couric from NBC to replace the soon-to-be-departing Dan Rather as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” And Moonves didn’t exactly knock down reports that he was batting about the possibility of having comedian Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s faux newscast “The Daily Report,” to fill some yet-to-be described role on the “CBS Evening News.”

Couric has long been seen by conservatives as a rabidly partisan liberal – a disaffected viewer once wrote the Monitor that he no longer stays up late to watch the returns of presidential or mid-term elections; he “simply turns on the tube as soon as I wake up, and if Katie Couric appears chipper and upbeat I know the Democrats had a good night; if she looks sour and downcast, it’s a sure tip-off that Republicans were victorious.”

With Stewart, who has never made a secret of his liberalism, the question is why a network news division desperately trying to regain respectability and believ-ability would even contemplate turning to a comedian to refurbish its image.

Speaking of CBS News, Van Gordon Sauter recently wrote, in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, that he “stopped watching it some time ago. The unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much for me.”

Purists vilified Sauter when he served as president of CBS News in the early 1980′s for his championing of a lighter, features-oriented approach to news. The criticism seemed justified when it was made, but, in retrospect at least, the Sauter era is looking better and better.

Sauter may have been ahead of his time in recognizing, back at the dawn of cable proliferation and audience fragmentation, that a “just the facts, ma’am” newscast would no longer be viable once viewers found themselves empowered with hundreds of channel choices at their fingertips. And freed of the narrow worldview imposed on them by three liberal networks, Americans would never again be forced to swallow the idea that “that’s the way it is” simply because Walter Cronkite said it was.

Getting back to the matter of comedians and TV news, it’s been an established fact of life since the days of Johnny Carson that a frighteningly high percentage of Americans get their news primarily from the monologues of late-night comedians. Which can only mean, given the political orientations of Jay Leno and David Letterman, that the last bit of political banter millions of Americans hear each weeknight generally follows a pattern of “Democrats dumb, Republicans dumber.”

While politicians of both parties come in for ridicule from Leno and Letterman (or, more accurately, their writers), there is a perceptible difference in the nature of that ridicule.

Democrats more often than not are razzed for their alleged bad habits or unattractive dispositions – Bill Clinton’s uncontrollable libido, John Kerry’s arrogant demeanor – while Republicans are mocked for their supposed personal failings and intellectual shortcomings – the prime example of the latter, of course, being the interminable references to George W. Bush as an unmitigated stooge fortunate enough that his brain can at least generate enough energy for him to walk from one room of the White House to another.

If asked, most viewers familiar with both Leno and Letterman probably would pick the latter as the more liberal of the two. Leno himself would be quick to disabuse them of that notion. In an interview with LA Weekly’s Nikki Finke last September, Leno said, “I’m not conservative. I’ve never voted that way in my life.” He also told Finke that he “really worries” about the kind of Supreme Court justices a reelected President Bush would nominate; that the White House has been using terrorism “as a crutch” since 9/11; and that there are “no Republicans” on his joke-writing staff – which does, however, include a number of former speechwriters for Democratic candidates. .

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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