Back during the 2012 campaign, NBC late night host Jimmy Fallon – he of the pathological inability to keep a straight face – hosted President Barack Obama. Or rather, Barack Obama invited himself on Fallon’s program to “slow jam the news.” What did this constitute? Obama sat behind Fallon onstage and essentially read a campaign speech. Fallon then repeated the last few words as his band, led by radical nutjob Questlove, played Barry White-type rhythms underneath. The result was syncopated propaganda.
Now Fallon’s at it again. This time, he paired up with NBC News manipulator Brian Williams for another spot of “slow jamming.” And Williams, being the good little Obama surrogate that he is, proceeded to read a list of talking points about the debt ceiling that could have come straight from Stephanie Cutter’s playbook. Here’s some of the exchange:
WILLIAMS: While most Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling, several have voiced dissension within GOP ranks, and Democrats are now hoping this will pressure their House leader, John Boehner, and soften his hardline stance.
FALLON: Mmm mmm mmm. Take it from my man Brilly Willy, ain't nothing worse than a soft Boehner. [Laughter, cheers, and applause] Ain't nothing worse, especially when it starts leaning a little to the left. [Laughter]
It isn’t just slow-jamming the news that’s problematic here. The problem is the merger of entertainment and news coverage that has become a hallmark of the major networks. Brian Williams is a celebrity not for asking tough questions of politicians on both sides of the aisle, but because he appears regularly on 30 Rock. Very few people realize that Williams is the man behind the news team that selectively edited tape of George Zimmerman to make him appear like a racist murderer. But lots of them think of him as a charming fellow who hangs with Tina Fey.
The celebrity of the news business means that journalists know where their bread is buttered – and it isn’t buttered by keeping government honest. Journalists used to aspire to be Woodward and Bernstein – good leftists who could take down a Republican president. That was bad enough; partisan hackery masquerading as objectivity has destroyed Americans’ trust in the fourth estate. Republicans have been complicit in that sort of nonsense; handing over a Republican primary debate to George “Clinton War Room” Stephanopoulos makes as much sense as handing the nation’s food supply over to Michael Moore. Yet Republicans continue to treat former Jimmy Carter intern Williams like media royalty.
But now we’ve even hit a step below that: journalists becoming famous just for being there. Can anyone name a single story Brian Williams has ever broken? Or Soledad O’Brien? Or Piers Morgan – other than Susan Boyle, and false pictures of British troops committing war crimes?
And yet they are all famous, not for keeping the American public informed, but for simply being. That means that they have an interest in doing anything to keep their faces in the public eye. As Robert Zimmerman, brother of George Zimmerman, told me, “The news media is now integrated with Hollywood. The news media creates a false story. Hollywood writes the script. And before you know it, someone innocent gets caught in the crossfire.”
Perhaps in the era of television, it is too much to ask that journalists say or do something newsworthy before being given the patina of glitz by the Hollywood crowd. If it is, what we can expect from the media is not truth, but sensationalism. At least Woodward and Bernstein reported facts. Today’s reporters aren’t even reporters. They’re too busy slow-jamming the news.
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