That was the year Jon Stewart was hailed for going on a now-defunct CNN program called 'Crossfire' and denouncing that silly show and its hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, telling them point blank that the problem with programming line that was "not so much that it's bad, as it's hurting America."
Here's a transcript of the interchange:
STEWART: So I wanted to come here today and say...
STEWART: Here's just what I wanted to tell you guys.
STEWART: Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America. See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations. And we're left out there to mow our lawns.
BEGALA: By beating up on them? You just said we're too rough on them when they make mistakes.
STEWART: No, no, no, you're not too rough on them. You're part of their strategies. You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks.
I was reminded of that odd moment of television truth last week while sitting in the media room of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal District Court in our nation's capital - watching the cream of the crop of America's political and media elite serially embarrass themselves, their professions and their country. From Vice President Cheney to his former chief of staff Scooter Libby, to present and former top officials in the State Department, CIA and White House communications operation, to once-prominent journalists from such well-endowed, (and once well respected) mainstream media outlets as Time magazine and the New York Times, a parade of the powerful have now been exposed as little more than "partisan, what do you call it, hacks," to use Stewart's perspicacious phrase. Evidence was entered that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that our hack partisan political operatives are being "reported on" by hack journalists who can't take proper notes, remember quotes accurately - or even recall crucial meetings with some of the most powerful individuals on the face of the earth...
So whatever else the confusing, calamitous and corrosive perjury and obstruction of justice felony trial of Scooter Libby may be about -- war, power, death, destruction, lies, manipulation, you-name-it -- it's first and foremost a trial of the media, by the media and for the media...or to be more precise, the mainstream media in the world's most powerful democracy. And what the trial has told us thus far about America's big-time media is that it's hopelessly, helplessly broken -perhaps even beyond repair.
As Timothy Rutten recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
"Everything about this case hurts journalism."
That's true first because reporters are appearing as prosecution witnesses for the government in a criminal trial aimed at convicting a former top administration aide. It's also true because the trial's revelatory look inside the clubby relationships, shoddy reporting and note-taking techniques, and incredible memory lapses exhibited by supposed 'top' journalists has peeled away the thin veneer of their supposed professional priesthood. And true finally, regrettably, of course, because it may well signal the death of the Source who was formerly know as Confidential.
As Rutten wrote, "The case has given the public an unbalanced, unflattering portrayal of journalism that undermines the value of journalists." That unflattering portrayal, unfortunately, turns out to be largely grounded in reality.
"The Libby case has highlighted that journalism isn't always a precise, clean profession," added Rutten. "Reporters, especially in Washington, do dance with sources in ways that can appear shady, and their note-taking may not meet stenographer standards." In this instance, they apparently don't even meet the most basic journalistic standards - or even come close. As a result, the courtroom drama unfolding in the courthouse may well turn out to be, as the headline of Rutten's piece had it, a 'breeding ground for a new cynicism' about the practice of journalism itself.
"This squalid melodrama (suggests) a Capitol, a court, an administration and a Washington press corps that aren't really playing by what the rest of us think of as the rules," he concluded. "If that impression takes hold in the country, you won't be able to lift the public cynicism with a skip loader and - no matter what happens to good old Scooter and his cronies with press credentials - everybody will come out of this trial a loser."
To some extent, we already have. That's why - in the spirit of Jon Stewart - I can only add this plaintive request to the small time players in Big Politics and Big Media: "Here's just what I wanted to tell you guys... Stop! Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America. See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations. And we're left out there to mow our lawns."