Why "Between Two Ferns" is no laughing matter

As Spandan so ably pointed out in his piece, the Beltway media is apoplectic that President Barack Obama dared to be interviewed by a greasy, fat, long-haired comedian in an effort to promote the Affordable Care Act. This Tweet fairly summarizes majority opinion in the White House press room:

I'm sure Maureen Dowd will have a piece up this weekend on how Obama disparages the dignity of the office of President by engaging with a low-brow actor from the "Hangover" series. Jay Carney was bombarded by questions on the day the interview hit the Internet, with reporters Very Concerned ™ that President Obama debased himself by not conducting an interview with one of the main network anchors, which should be the appropriate route for any President who wishes to speak with the public.

Of course, the hypocrisy is so blatant it's laughable. Remember this video, shown at the Nerd Prom in 2004?

Do watch the entire video. While ordinary citizens were enraged at the joke, as this Guardian article explains, one would be forgiven for thinking that the assembled good and great of the press thought it was a bang up jape, one of their own laughing at those he sent to their deaths on, well, a bald-faced, blatant lie. Because, really, the thought of those sent to kill and die for the US, and the people overseas whom they kill, can't be allowed to ruin a wonderful evening of self-congratulations.

It was quite appropriate for the previous Commander-in-Chief to make tasteless and abysmal light of the casus belli which dragged the US into a war which should never have been fought, killing more American citizens than died in 9/11, slaughtering countless Iraqi civilians, and burdening the country with debts financial, political, and moral. But, of course, you'd want to have a beer with the previous occupant of the White House. However, a sane, conscientious, genuinely good man, who is also President, using new media to push for his signature legislative achievement? There is the true tastelessness, if the cries from the fevered corners of network offices are to be believed. Obama again sullies the office, as he did when he called Vladimir Putin on the first Saturday of the Ukraine crisis while dressed in jeans.

It's become more or less a truism that the establishment media is a corrupt institution which imbibes Republican memes and disseminates them to its audience. Thus why they laughed at Bush searching for WMDs in the White House, but look askance at Obama going on "Between Two Ferns".

But there is no "unbiased" media. What the Internet has allowed is a flourishing of what used to be called "the yellow press": very biased, very opinionated journals which made no secret of whose side they were on. The big papers—New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times—still make a pretense of being unbiased. And of course, parroting the government line should be the brief of no news organization. However, assuming that the government—or anyone—is lying, and then crafting your reporting to expose the "lie", is neither fair nor unbiased. You've gone into the story with a preconceived notion. The Obama Administration purposely allowed Benghazi to happen. The administration was in complete charge of the Cincinnati IRS office. Obama "lied" about being able to keep your health policy under ACA. Even I, a mere librarian, know that good journalism should involve taking a premise, and then examining it from all sides, until things can be said about the premise. Instead, we have a media which seems to have taken lessons from Glenn Greenwald: the government by default lies, Obama is the worst practitioner of this, and your job is to assume the lie and expose it fully.

Obama's appearance on "Between Two Ferns" was brilliant. He reached an audience which does not watch the 6.30 pm news summaries. It's an audience which doesn't sit down and watch CNN for any amount of time, unless Anthony Bourdain is on. It's the audience which most needs the benefits of Obamacare: young, starting out in life, and needing the security of access to health care.

And this is what scares the mainstream media. For decades it churned out replacements for the audience which died out. What it faces in this coming generation is a group which has no use for its product. As wonderful as Rev. Al Sharpton is on MSNBC, my 20-something nephew and niece are not watching him. They don't even own televisions. And yet they're as informed as their middle-aged uncle, because we all get our news from sources other than television.

The cultural and information industries which seemed so secure, so dominant, are slowly withering away by the onslaught of technology and a changing view of the world. They're looking at a digital world which is already here, and have not a clue on how to deal with it. So they laud the old certainties of the past (the tough Texan joking about war and death), while seeking to cut down the president who has embraced and embodies the new world.

Of course the media would be aghast at Obama going on Zach Galifianakis' show. He doesn't need them. No one does.



Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.