Do not adjust your set: U.S. TV journalists are finally asking politicians the tough questions they should have been posing in the run-up to the attack on Iraq.
Trouble is, more often than not, they're asking those questions of Democrats.
For example, two Sundays ago, which should have been a good press day for the John Kerry-John Edwards team on a post-convention high, along came another terror alert. That afternoon former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean told CNN that he was "concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism."
The next morning, there was CNN's Bill Hemmer hammering John Kerry, demanding to know if he was "distancing'' himself from Dean's remark.
In fairness, there has been some harder questioning of Republicans lately but it's tough to shake the sensation that it isn't coming so much from the media per se but from Democrats who, after nearly three years of cowed silence, are at last criticizing the administration.
Meanwhile, newscasters act as stenographers, as if publishing what each side says — or at least edited bits of what they say — serves the public, let alone the truth. Since when is journalism tape recording?
This is why, on the day after the Democrat National Convention ended, I was screaming at CNN and MSNBC as they ran uninterrupted live coverage of President George W. Bush's speech in Missouri, where he chanted his meaningless new mantra, "Results Matter!"
"When it comes to improving our economy and creating new jobs, results matter!" he cried, to enthusiastic applause. "When it comes to better securing our homeland and fighting the forces of terror, results matter! (More applause.) And when it comes to choosing a President, results matter! (Still more applause.)"
Uh, what results? The slowing economy and net loss of jobs? The renewed terror alerts? How Osama bin Laden, whom Bush once wanted "dead or alive," is still out there? There was no such deconstruction of his speech on either of the news channels.
For that, you had to turn to the The Daily Show With John Stewart, which provides more incisive non-partisan political analysis than anything else on TV.
The half-hour, which airs Monday to Thursday at 11 p.m. on the Comedy Network and at midnight on CTV, is seen by some 300,000 Canadians each week, and is the top-rated talk show in the Toronto-Hamilton market.
If it airs past your bedtime and you're VCR-challenged, you can go to http://www.comedycentral.com and download video highlights, such as Stewart's recent interview with CNN's Wolf Blizter who admits that the media, "should have been more skeptical" about what was coming out of the White House press office the past few years.
Nice that Blitzer did a half-hearted mea culpa — but he's still firing rubber bullets. His Sunday interview with national security adviser Condoleeza Rice let her dance around questions about the validity of the latest terror alert and the unbelievably stupid undermining of the "war on terror" caused by the outing of a double agent working inside Al Qaeda.
The Bush administration continues to massacre the truth with almost no contradiction from the media. Last week, there was Vice-President Dick Cheney, lying again, in a speech in Minnesota, where he repeated the popular Republican refrain of how Kerry and Edwards are the number one and four "most liberal'' members of the Senate.
It's a line that the right has been using to beat up the Kerry-Edwards ticket for weeks — but never had I seen it explained or sourced by anybody on TV. Not, at least, until last Tuesday's Daily Show.
Stewart interviewed the too-slick-for-his-own-good Texan congressman Henry Bonilla, who worked on the Republican's truth squad during the convention. It was his job to counter the Democrat spin.
Fair enough. But not fair when it's a load of bull re-heated and served up by Big Media. Those who watched the convention coverage picked up the stink.
Stewart, on the other hand, did not allow Bonilla off the hook. He kept jabbing until Bonilla looked like an obfuscating fool. The best moment came when Bonilla implied that all kinds of objective groups were involved in compiling the rankings.
"You have conservative groups on our side, there are business groups, there are people who track tax bills and spending bills and things like that, trial lawyers track us, unions, and all of these groups are kind of the, ah, understood authorities," he said.
Replied Stewart: "You know who seems to be the only people not tracking you? The American public. We're the only ones!"
But then, if journalistic watchdogs aren't sniffing out the truth, who will do the tracking for the public?
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