Journalism, standards, and telephones

JOURNALISM, STANDARDS, AND TELEPHONES…. The NYT‘s Brian Stelter had an interesting piece the other day about Jon Stewart and his disdain for Fox News. One recent incident was of particular interest.

Last week that comedian did something that the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” the morning show on Fox News, did not do: he had his staff members call the White House and ask a question.

It may have been in pursuit of farce, not fact, but it gave credence to the people who say “The Daily Show” is journalistic, not just satiric. “Fox & Friends” had repeatedly asked whether the crescent-shaped logo of the nuclear security summit was an “Islamic image,” one selected by President Obama in his outreach to the Muslim world. The White House told “The Daily Show” that the logo was actually based on the Rutherford-Bohr model of the atom.

It was, to be sure, deeply amusing. The Republican cable network, in one of its more farcical moments of the month, speculated about its new conspiracy theory — Fox News personalities saw a dot on a partial circle and assumed the White House was sending secret signals to the Middle East, because of the kinda-sorta-but-not-really similarities between the atomic model and the Islamic star and crescent moon. Stewart’s office picked up the phone, found out the truth, and explained why the observation pushed by “Fox & Friends” was idiotic.

When Stewart describes Fox News as a “truly a terrible, cynical, disingenuous news organization,” this helps prove the point.

But the NYT piece suggests there’s a larger significance to what transpired here.

[Stewart’s] staff members regularly dismiss claims that “The Daily Show” is a form of journalism. “I have not moved out of the comedian’s box into the news box,” Mr. Stewart said on the show on Tuesday, adding, “The news box is moving toward me.”

But there he was, checking in with the White House when Fox didn’t.

Yes, but the underlying point here is that this example represents evidence that “The Daily Show” really is engaged in professional journalism. Stewart’s office picked up the phone, while the clowns on “Fox & Friends” preferred to air their unique brand of stupidity.

But I’m not sure I buy the premise. I certainly give credit to “The Daily Show” for taking the time to get the real story on the Rutherford-Bohr model, but I don’t think that makes Jon Stewart more of a journalist; I think it makes “Fox & Friends” more of a transparent joke.

After all, as Stewart said on the air when explaining his call to the White House, all it proved is that his phone works.