The Problem with The Media
Jon Talks About the Media—And It Talks Back
We invited Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan to talk with Jon about the media sensationalism—and YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! Actually, you will. They have a thoughtful discussion about the state of news media and if it can be improved.
THE PROBLEM WITH JON STEWART PODCAST
Episode 21 Final Transcript
Jon: It’s so stimulating and so fun to not actually come to work, but to sit in a screen which, by the way, I have gotten so used to. [BRINDA LAUGHS]
Brinda: I was going to say, Jon, are we ever going to get you out of there?
Jon: No. Because think of all the other pathogens I’ve avoided [BRINDA LAUGHS] while there — while I’ve been in here in my crisper, this is, by the way, this room is refrigerated. I am kept at 39 degrees.
Henrik: You live in a cigar humidor.
Brinda: You’d make a great salad.
Jon: That’s exactly right.
Jon: Welcome to the podcast. The Problem with me, Jon Stewart. There we got Henrik Blix, one of our fine, fine writers. And if we’re being honest, a physical specimen, I believe —
Henrik: You know I was wondering how long it’d take for us to start talking about my body on this episode.
Jon: I believe —
Brinda: You’ve said this before?
Jon: The phrase, erm, is in order.
Jon: And second, we have and this is a treat for us Executive Producer Brinda Adhikari joining us.
Brinda: Hi, everybody.
Brinda: I want you to know something. I um. I am —
Brinda: — nervous.
Brinda: I have never done a podcast in my entire life.
Jon: Drunk. Brinda. Let’s be honest with the audience. Brinda, before the podcast, I don’t want to say drank. What do you think? 12 of those?
Brinda: Just one.
Jon: How many did you? OK.
Henrik: Yeah, like 12. Twelve hard seltzers.
Brinda: Listen, some people just need some relaxers in their lives to perform.
Jon: Sure. By the way, new episode of the Apple TV+ show is out today. It’s on white people. Which, boy did they step in it, and check it out. The link is in the episode description. Why are you nervous? I’m interested because, so we’re talking about our media episode. Last week we had an episode on the media. Now, Brinda obviously has great experience there. She was the may I say, she produced the news for CBS.
Brinda: Yeah. I did for six years at CBS.
Jon: Six years.
Brinda: And then 12 years at ABC News. So I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and now I’m here. And this episode was a, it was personal, man. It was personal, but I —
Jon: It was personal. We had to work through some feelings, [BRINDA LAUGHS].
Jon: When we started it, it began with “Jon, you’re being very hard on the media.” And it ended with, “Let’s get these motherf***ers! We will destroy them!”
Brinda: I believe we sang a song from “Les Mis” at the end. [JON LAUGHS] Do you hear the people sing? That’s what we did.
Jon: We do hear them sing. Henrik, were you? You were never involved in news. You were a comedy writer pretty much from the get-go, right? You’re not. You’re not in a news —
Henrik: That’s true in a professional sense. But I went to school for journalism. I went —
Brinda: I didn’t know that.
Henrik: — to uh I went to Michigan State for journalism, and I did. So I did a lot of journalism at Michigan State. I worked in newsrooms covering like we would cover small towns around East Lansing. Writing for the The Mason Times and the Williamston Gazette, and I did an internship at the CBS affiliate in Kalamazoo where I’m from, which was extremely eye-opening because it was full of, it was a microcosm of what we talked about in the episode, which is it was a lot of really great journalists that got into the field for really noble reasons, wanted to tell great stories that would inform their community and help people make important decisions for their families. And because of the “it bleeds, it leads,” we got to be first nature. They did a lot of having to knock on doors of people whose kids just got murdered and having to kill important stories about tax policy or health care in favor of something that the corporate office sent down. And so. So there was a lot of that.
Jon: What did it breed, Henrik in those people? Did it breed a cynicism, a defeatism? Did anyone like an older, more wizened kind of journalist pull you aside and go, “Kid I see a light in your eyes. Get — run as fast as you can kid.”
Henrik: That did happen at school once. Someone came in —
Henrik: I think it was from, oh, it might have been The Washington Post and someone came in and was like, “You know, you might not want to go into this career.” And the dean was like, “But there’s other sides to this too.”
Henrik: I remember in the newsroom at this internship there being about like three types of people and there was the, this is just a job. Very cynical. There was moments that felt very yucky to me where we’d hear they had the police scanners and they would hear a car crash and be like, “We got one.”
Jon: Oh my Lord.
Henrik: And it was like, ehh. Then there was people who really, really wanted to be very good journalists and we’re trying to do good work and would occasionally get it through. But we’re kind of in this system where corporate would be like, “Post pictures of cats. That gets us more clicks.” And then there was people who were, there were some people who are just like, “I genuinely just like being on TV,” and I was like, well, I can, I can do a comedian that way I can try to be on TV and never really be on TV.
Jon: I can try and be on TV and not sell my soul. Brinda is that a microcosm? So I would not have expected that on a local level, to be quite honest with you, I would have thought there’d be less cynicism and a little bit more engagement. But is that a microcosm of national media in your experience producing at ABC and CBS?
Brinda: You know, Jon, I still firmly believe that journalists don’t get involved because of clicks and ratings. I mean, they get involved because they want to do good work and they want to report on things that impact society in some way and they want to call out bulls***. There’s not a ton of money in it. I mean, once you become on air, it’s a little different, but it’s not like, you know, if you want to make money, you go into a different profession, you know, you don’t become a journalist. What I think this episode helped me really clarify and be really open about is that the things that I got into it for were not the things that I ultimately ended up really committing to in a big way by the time I left, because by the time I left, I was kind of moving up the ladder in a management way. And by then, success was really being defined by ratings, and it felt like there were stories that I personally killed because I didn’t think they were going to rate well. So I fully was a part of a system that engaged in that kind of behavior. I’m not somebody here to just throw stones, you know? One of the things I remember you saying as well, you know, as this whole Ukraine thing is happening, is that you were pretty impressed and continue to be impressed by the kind of journalism you’re seeing right now. And I’m curious about whether you still feel that way or are you noticing any kind of shift take place right now in coverage about Ukraine?
Jon: Well, that’s an interesting question. So what happens, I think especially with the 24-hour cable networks is they find their narratives. And then so when the invasion first occurred, it was an all hands on deck, 24 hour eyewitness, the bravery was incredible. They lost the entire right-left polarity of coverage. Punditry went out the window. It was just about brave people on the ground and those who were expert in conflict in the studio, and they would have conversations about what was actually happening. But it doesn’t take long for mission creep to set in with journalists who then become the what’s like this is a siege. And a siege is, by its very nature, static. And the carnage is unspeakable. But it is the same, and journalists want movement. They want action. And as you’re watching, you know, I looked at that. I think the Intercept sent something out. It was the White House correspondents that are all like, “Would you bomb them if they touched Poland? How about this? Would you bomb them if they had a drone? OK, OK, let’s look at it this way. What would it take for you to bomb them? How about bombing them? You know, we have a question for you. Bombs? What about those?”
Henrik: And they’re all wearing zoot suits and holding big cigars. [BRINDA LAUGHS]
Jon: Yeah, it’s but it’s you start to see narrative creep.
Henrik: Mm hmm.
Jon: It’s no longer about like, this is what’s happening. There’s still some of that. But you see the stories start to move on into speculation.
Brinda: That’s right.
Jon: What would it take for this? What if Putin got killed? What if we killed Putin? What if we went in and poisoned? You know, and that’s the part where you realize they’re trapped in a business model that creates news as narratives as it’s one thing to tell stories. It’s another thing to direct them and to start to try and shape them. And that’s what I’m starting to see. Would you guys agree with that?
Henrik: You know, we talked a lot in the episode, and you’ve mentioned a lot of how you don’t think the media has a liberal bias. You think it has a bias towards sensationalism and escalation and conflict.
Henrik: And I think sometimes that is instead of that is a symptom, not the cause. I think oftentimes that is a symptom of a gravitational pull to narrative, which is very understandable.
Jon: That’s exactly right.
Henrik: We try to do the same thing on our show. You know, it’s the way that human beings digest and categorize information is through narrative, but sometimes things don’t so easily fall into a narrative. And I think with this, we’re seeing that those questions. I don’t think the journalists are sitting in the White House press corps like, please, please, a big war. Like, I don’t think they as individuals want a big war. But I think the gravitational pull towards a narrative arc towards movement in the narrative —
Jon: Towards more conflict.
Henrik: — is what drives that. Yeah.
Jon: But here’s the thing that’s f****ed up in my mind. There ain’t a lot of questions about peace.
Jon: There ain’t a lot of questions about what would it take to de-escalate the situation?
Brinda: That’s exactly right.
Jon: And how could we possibly do that? And are there other conflicts in the world that we’ve ignored that create this? It’s all about the action, and I disagree slightly with the idea that they’re dispassionate because I’ll tell you underneath it all they know this is where careers are made. They know that that there’s an opportunity here to really lift their profiles. And I hate to say that in a cynical way, but I think that’s absolutely what occurs.
Brinda: One of the things I’ve noticed is like war reporters are some of the most passionate kinds of people out there when, when they go out there, they- their stories-
Jon: Some of the f***ing craziest.
Brinda: Oh my gosh, fearless.
Jon: I’m not saying everybody. Some of the war reporters I’ve met I’m like, “You’re out of your f***ing mind.”
Brinda: Right, but they are the ones whose stories when there’s not a conflict, their stories, the first ones to go. Their stories are the first ones to get killed because they’ll have you believe that when there’s no conflict, apparently nobody cares about foreign news. But the truth is, so I’m going to give you a snapshot, right?
Brinda: Because you’re talking about Mariupol. Right now, CNN. OK. Russia bombarded Mariupol, hundreds of thousands trapped. Massive font. It’s basically their entire above the fold. Same thing with the New York Times. It’s a big story. And like, absolutely, we should learn about it. What’s tough for me when I look at the CNN website is that they’re telling it like narrative driven human interest stories which have a role in coverage. Please don’t get me wrong, but I also feel like I need some nuts and bolts stories up at the top that just kind of lay the groundwork of what is happening before I get into some of the more narrative driven things.
Jon: Mm hmm.
Brinda: The other thing I’m observing is that there’s like 25 headlines right now and with Mariupol is like Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello break up.
Jon: What? When did that happen?
Henrik: We were going to wait until after to tell Jon. [BRINDA LAUGHS]
Brinda: But you know what I’m saying? As a human, I am struggling to sift through all of it, right? And one of the things that you and Bob Iger talked about in the in that interview, which I agree with him on, is this whole thing about volume. There is so much responsibility placed on me as a consumer to sift through stuff. And I got to hand it to The Washington Post. I’m not just saying this because Margaret Sullivan’s on the call. I really think they’re doing a nice job today. [BRINDA LAUGHS] Where-
Jon: Well, listen. To be perfectly frank, because television is a passive experience. So if you were to watch the 24-hour news networks, your vision and version of what’s important in the world would be very different than if you were to hold up next to a newspaper because a newspaper will emphasize certain stories, but there’s breath, there’s depth, there’s width. A newspaper provides you a wide array of important stories with caveats. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but for some reason the 24 hour networks are like a distillation of that, so you don’t get any of the other flavors. It’s just pure. It’s f***in meth, methamphetamine. Do you know what I mean? It’s, I hate to put this in Breaking Bad terms, but here’s what happens. The newspapers create a great amount of stories, and then the networks take that into a bathtub in a small, ramshackle shack in the outskirts of Mesa, Arizona, and they bubble it down and they put in some, and they create crack and meth. And that’s what they’re doing that.
Brinda: Don’t try this at home.
Jon: Don’t try this at home. But you know what? You bring up the perfect segue, Brinda. We are delighted to have with us. You know, the media episode generally with our episodes will sift through different takes, and some people have good contrary taste. The media episode, very few media people raise their heads after it. It’s not like the climate episode. It’s not like the others. Mostly, they were like dead silence.
Brinda: Totally. I got a few minutes about it.
Brinda: I got a few texts about it from people who said that they really enjoyed it. But for the most part, media people are not going to talk a lot about it. And I just, you know, Margaret Sullivan is somebody who people in newsrooms are read really regularly. She is really well known for her commentary about news and how news is covered. And I’m really interested to hear you guys talk because I especially found some of the stuff she said about Mueller coverage really interesting about the importance of the story, while the messengers may have been flawed. And so I’m excited for you guys to get into that.
Jon: Oh, well, let’s get into it, for God’s sakes. Let’s bring on Margaret Sullivan, media columnist, Washington Post. You guys stick around because I think this is a conversation that you will —
Brinda: Will do.
Jon: — be interested in. Covers media broadly previously, the public editor of The New York Times, which, as you know, is generally all of the news that is fit to print. If it’s fit to print, you’ll find it in the New York Times. If it’s not fit to print, they’ll send it over to the what is it, The Williamston Gazette. Is that where they send stuff?
Henrik: Yeah, I write it if it’s not fit to print. [BRINDA LAUGHS]
Interview with Margaret Sullivan
Jon: All right, fair enough. Author of Ghosting the News: Local Journalism, the Crisis of American Democracy. Margaret Sullivan. Join us, please.
Margaret: Thank you. Hi. Hi, Jon.
Jon: We’ve just been discussing the media, the role it’s had in Ukraine. But the episode that we did was about how there’s sort of what’s considered the mainstream media liberal, corporate owned. And then there’s the right wing media generally also corporate owned, and the right wing media feels like it has a more, much more of a political bent, it’s much more activist in its or involved in its political goals. There’s a lot more synergy between, you know, they seem like the political arm of a political party.
Jon: The media arm of a political party.
Jon: Left wing media doesn’t have the same efficacy. Would you say that’s a fair determination of where we’re at? And that’s not to include, like, really liberal media, which is like Democracy Now, which is much more of like muckraking and I think much more interesting and effective.
Margaret: So I think you’re right that right wing media is its own thing and it’s very effective and is agenda driven. And then I don’t know, though, that I would describe the rest of everything else as the left leaning media, because very often it’s kind of trying to be down the middle in a way that’s not very useful. It’s trying to find this know this kind of inoffensive middle ground. And sometimes that means giving equal weight to two unequal things, and that’s not so good. So when I hear it described as sort of the left wing media, which is actually what people like Sean Hannity would like everybody to believe. I don’t really buy that.
Jon: Well, that’s what I’m saying. That’s the establishment view is there’s a mainstream liberal media and then there’s a right wing media. I tend to agree with you that it’s not liberal, that Democracy Now or some parts of NPR. NPR’s more steeped in kind of a liberal esthetic more than it is —
Jon: — an activist. But that the general media that we have now corporate and mainstream is biased towards sensationalism and towards, in some ways, shallow narrative.
Margaret: So when you ask people, what do you think of the media, you know, that is a very broad question, right? But what most people think is they think about cable news-
Margaret: — for, you know, it’s kind of in study. So when you’re asking people about the media, they’re thinking, like CNN, you know, that’s often what they’re thinking.
Margaret: And so, you know, I would totally agree with you that what happens on cable news because they got to fill 24 hours, they get tired of the same old thing. They’re very oriented towards change, which is understandable. They’re very oriented towards conflict and drama. And they’re kind of you come to it in varying degrees to get your outrage on. That’s what you’re doing when you turn on cable news. And I mean, that is especially true of Fox News in the evening.
Margaret: In primetime shows, you are there to get outraged and they will help you do that. So —
Jon: But they also are more purposeful. I feel like when you turn on Fox News, you really feel the political strategy meeting —
Margaret: Oh yeah.
Jon: — that occurred behind the scenes and you really feel their conversation with the head of the Republican National Committee where they talk about how are we going to propagandize this.
Margaret: Yeah, I mean, especially during the Trump administration, when there was a complete revolving door between the right wing media and the, you know, the Trump White House and the Trump press office and all of that, it was like, you know, Bill Shine went from one to the other. Kayleigh McEnany. All these people kind of, well, and now I’m on Fox. Now I’m actually in the press office but now I’m going back to Fox. It was all kind of, it’s very symbiotic and it’s kind of all the same crowd. I think, you know, once Trump was out of office, he lost the election. Did you hear that?
Jon: No, I thought he was still president.
Jon: Or am I, but that’s —
Margaret: Well you know, it depends who you ask.
Jon: I’m only on truth social. It’s the only media that I consumed, so I’m assuming.
Margaret: So yeah. You might not know
Jon: Yeah, that’s right.
Margaret: So, you know, once Trump was not in office, it’s sort of like, I think Fox was like, “Well, oh my gosh, what, what are we supposed to do? We no longer are the, you know, the PR arm here.” So I think then they just turn to sort of trashing Biden. AOC, go back to Hillary.
Jon: Well, in some ways they got primaried from the right. I mean.
Jon: In the election, OAN and Newsmax really went straight right wing QAnon down the rabbit hole.
Jon: And Fox had a decision to make. And as we got —
Margaret: And what did they do?
Jon: That’s right. We got primaried from the right. And so we can either become that and cut their legs out from under them or give a more responsible view. And I think we know which direction they went.
Margaret: Right, I wrote a column at The Times saying I thought it would be great if actually Fox just beefed up its reporting ranks and became more of what they say they are, which is Fox News. But, you know, I mean, they do have good reporters there and actually they very unfortunately have had some terrible casualties. Covering the war in Ukraine, but if you tune in at night, which is when most people go to Fox, you know, you’re going to get a straight hit of pretty right wing stuff.
Jon: Do you think that the mainstream media that is not Fox? Let’s put the right wing media in a separate category, and that also includes right wing radio, which, and I don’t think people realize how for the last 40 years.
Jon: Right wing radio has been a factory in Bhopal of toxic poison that it just releases into the environment about, like Democrats are the enemy. Liberals are a cancer. This country must be taken back like this.
Margaret: It’s a constant, I think you know you’re driving around, you’re listening to this, and I think it really gets into your bloodstream.
Jon: No question. So the question becomes what is either the antidote to that, which you may not be able to engage it directly, but what does a responsible and effective news organization look like in an era of this kind of, this conflict-a-nator, this machine that needs outrage? It’s clear that the media now, because it’s so ubiquitous, is built for 9/11 or an invasion. In the absence of those stories it has to generate enough urgency and outrage to justify themselves.
Margaret: Yeah, I do have some ideas about that. And I would also compare it to the problem with it. The difficulty of it is sort of like, how do you cover climate change effectively? You can say how bad it is. You can show the melting glaciers and you can show the polar bears. But it’s not a natural cable news story to cover. And so, you know, whereas an invasion or a plane crash or something like that is a story that it just works better. But a blast of idealism here, if you can stand it. I think that mainstream media or what I like to call the reality based press as opposed to the extreme right wing press, should redefine itself as a, you know to represent what the press is supposed to do, which is be about democracy, voting rights, voting suppression, gerrymandering, the efforts to put people in state office who are going to deny a real election when it happens. I mean, that is a great, ongoing story that’s about as core and is as foundational as it gets.
Jon: No question.
Margaret: I see some coverage of that and I love it, but I don’t think it’s, you know, it needs to actually be a mission. I mean, the right wing media has a mission.
Jon: That’s right.
Margaret: And this should be the mission of the reality based press. And I’m talking about big newspapers and I’m talking about cable.
Jon: I almost think that’s too narrow. I mean, I think that there are ways to bolster democracy that are not just about covering how voting is under threat.
Margaret: Somebody is trying to tear it down.
Jon: That’s right.
Margaret: Right, right, right. Right. No, I agree.
Jon: I would almost say what if the media were focused actually not on the political ramifications, but on governance? It strikes me that the media almost ignores governance.
Jon: For electoral strength. So there’s no focus on muckraking at that level. Is the government delivering on the programs? What is the value of the American budget? Not just how much we’re spending. What is the value that we get from it?
Margaret: That’s right. And that’s why I’d like to see, you know, we always hear a lot about political reporting. It would be so great if it were redefined as actually government reporting, which is what it’s supposed to be. So less about the palace intrigue and less about the horse race of one campaign or the other. You know who’s ahead? What if this happens and more about what’s going on? I think that we kind of underestimate the interest in the intelligence of the public when we don’t do that because I actually think there’s people do care about democracy.
Margaret: And they are worried to the extent that they are being informed about it and tuned into it. Yeah, you’re right. It’s broader than just sort of electoral threats to democracy. It’s sort of the whole idea of governance and you know government rather than politics would be a way to define it. And also, some people talk about a citizen’s agenda. What’s the citizen’s agenda? What would actually be good for the citizens of the United States? What do they need to know about.
Jon: Information Bill of Rights.
Jon: Let’s get an information bill of rights of what used to see. And this may be too broad a question, and it may be prejudicial on its face, which is why, which is why I’m going to ask it.
Margaret: Good. Good, I’m ready. At least you prep me for it.
Jon: I always felt during the Trump administration that his narcissism was matched only by the narcissism of the media. And so that they took it personally. They have, that there was an image of themselves in the paper you work at democracy dies in darkness and that they are the pillars that are doing the thing that you say they’re doing. Upholding democracy. They are the immune system. They are filtering the toxins to give us a clear thing, but they’re not. They are adding to the noise, they are, they’ve created a model that almost out of necessity, cements divisions rather than views context. They should be a context machine. And the question then is this? Is the ego not to anthropomorphize it, but is the ego? What gets in the way? Are they more of the status quo than outside of it? Attempting to clarify it?
Margaret: Well, you know, I think it’s not that simple. Journalists do want to do a good job and they did get into this to inform and to, you know, they probably got into it for very good reason. And then you’re in the reality of it. And you know that there’s a great demand for audience. There’s a great- it’s, you know, on the cable side. It’s about ratings. On the print or sort of digital side, it’s about audience. Well, you know, Trump was, you know, he lies a lot. But one thing that he has said that’s true is he’s described himself as a ratings machine. And that is actually very true. You know, when he for whatever reason, when he’s on the screen or on the airwaves, it’s kind of hard to look away. The reason for that is various. But so journalists came to understand that if you had his name in the headline, if you were amplifying something that he said, that was outrageous, that was going to get a lot of attention. So I don’t think that’s great. But I would challenge what you said in that. I think that, you know, a lot. You’re very well informed, obviously. How do you know that stuff? Well, you know it through the mainstream media, largely, I think. I mean, you might criticize The Washington Post or the New York Times, and I do, too. But ultimately, they are bringing you factual information and then they have the opinion side of their operations, which are kind of doing a lot of the same thing that you’re complaining about.
Jon: I would push back on the idea that there is this true separation and that what I think filters into the coverage is the emotional side. And let’s talk about Mueller, for instance, or let’s talk about the Iraq War, you know, big stories of our time. There isn’t just, well, there’s straight reporting and then there’s opinion and the two never meet. I don’t think that’s correct.
Jon: I think that the journalists are really vulnerable to being worked by the refs to access to the kinds of things that seep into. They don’t know the difference, sometimes between a scoop and when they’re being fed something. And the thing that they’re being fed, having a darker purpose to it, to be getting out, that there’s a strategy behind the information that they get.
Margaret: You know that that certainly was true during the run up to the Iraq War, which is one of the truly darkest chapters in media history, you know, certainly of the last hundred years.
Margaret: You know, the Mueller story. I think that people were truly concerned about what was happening with Trump. They could see that this was a very problematic figure. And people felt like Mueller was a straight shooter. Did it go overboard? Way overboard, way overboard. The cable shoot shows became obsessed with it. Twitter, you remember, I don’t know if you would see these people with their little cannons like boom, something just hit. You know, it was it was just so embarrassing because they put all this faith in Mueller time, right? And then, of course, it didn’t really. I mean, honestly, the Mueller report does have a tremendous amount of damning substance in it, but it didn’t deliver in the way. And then, of course, it was immediately spun by Bill Barr. Now the bestselling author, that he is.
Jon: But that is something that you have to expect. And I would say that the media has been the architect of their own demise. They would very much like to blame the audience. This is what rates. This is what sells. And I would suggest that you don’t know that because you haven’t tried the other. And the second part of it is, you know, in terms of it selling CNN, Fox, MSNBC to a much lesser extent, survive on carriage fees, not just advertising.
Margaret: That’s absolutely right.
Jon: You know, Fox makes $2 billion a year. CNN probably makes almost a billion dollars a year. And so there has to be some measure of public interest. It’s why what you need is kind of that sensibility of the public interest with better narrative storytelling, maybe or maybe a little bit of jazz, but the media was the architect of their own falling ratings in my mind. What they did with Mueller is they made the substance that you speak of immaterial.
Margaret: Yeah, I mean, it was another very embarrassing chapter.
Jon: But they’re proud of it. If you talk to a lot of the mainstream media denizens about the Mueller report, it was one of their finer moments.
Margaret: Well, the Mueller report is one thing. The coverage of —
Jon: The coverage.
Margaret: — the report might be one thing. But again, it’s like the run up to the Iraq War, the run up to the Mueller report for months and months. And remember, it was like, Well, is it going to be this weekend? And, you know, is Trump going to be indicted?
Jon: That’s right.
Margaret: And, you know, it wasn’t that weekend and then it wasn’t the next weekend. And Trump never was indicted, and then he came out and said he had been fully exonerated and everybody was like, you know, this was this is a case where we needed the coverage to say over and over and over again no, that that actually isn’t what the report said. But it wasn’t played that way.
Jon: But how do you cover it? You can’t cover the kind of special counsel. It’s something that takes place in private. It’s sort of academic. It’s a lot of grinding work. You can’t cover it like it’s The Walking Dead.
Margaret: No, no.
Jon: And I think to a large extent-
Margaret: It was covered with speculation and speculation —
Margaret: — is a death knell.
Margaret: And you know what we’re bad at in the media? We’re better at prediction, terrible at prediction. And similarly, and it’s related, terrible at speculation. And yet there’s so much of it.
Jon: But I would say even worse is they’re bad at accountability because man-
Margaret: You mean like afterwards, right?
Jon: That’s right. Afterwards, they all have a roundtable and they go, “Did we f*** this up?”
Jon: And then everybody says, Well, it was news. What are we supposed to do? Not cover it? It’s news. There’s never any soul searching.
Margaret: I agree.
Jon: And there’s, it’s like a game of musical chairs where even when you’re wrong, the music stops. But nobody ever removes a chair. They just keep adding them or switching them.
Margaret: What about the, I mean, when you tell I want to talk about the lack of accountability, I think that the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email supposed scandal is —
Jon: No question.
Margaret: And there, there was, I remember there was this sort of gathering annual no quadrennial, I guess, gathering at Harvard after the campaign and there was some discussion there about it. And that was like sort of one occasion. But there was very little, you know, kind of like, yeah, we really sort of blew it. We overplayed that. And I have a theory for why it was overplayed in that way.
Margaret: And my theory is that the leadership of news organizations, like a lot of other people in the country did not believe they could not bring themselves to believe that Trump could get elected. And so therefore, Hillary was going to be elected. So given the fact that she was a shoo-in in their minds and she was going to be crowned. Therefore, we have to be very, very, very tough on her because we want to be tough on the person who is going to be president. That’s my theory.
Jon: Think about that, though.
Margaret: Yeah, it’s a terrible.
Jon: The thought process behind it is pure strategy that has nothing to do with the content that they were supposedly looking at. And so they made a much bigger. But what’s fascinating of all this is if you look at the biggest stories of our past time, you’ve mentioned them here so far. Mueller, the Iraq War, climate change. Not one of them ends with this media covered in any kind of glory. Each time you kept coming back to “Yeah, that was a debacle. Yeah, that was embarrassing. Yeah, we did a terrible job there”, but nothing changes because I would say they’re being rewarded for it. The money, the rating, the currency that they’re operating on is not the food and currency that we need, and they’re not providing it. But they don’t have to. I liken it to the New York Mets.
Margaret: How so?
Jon: Well, I need them to win, and they don’t. But I stay there for 50 years.
Margaret: I see. Where is the accountability there?
Jon: Thank you.
Jon: That’s what this is about.
Margaret: You’re right. Yeah. OK, well that’s good.
Jon: But what you’re saying is not a theory and Brinda can attest to it. What you said about “I think that’s what they were thinking.” That is explicitly what they were thinking, not only what they were thinking, what they were talking about in the back room.
Margaret: Right, and so and then there was soul searching after the 2016 election, but it was very limited. The soul searching went like this and it had a very bizarre result. The soul searching went like this. “We did not understand the Trump voter. We need to get out into Middle America more.” OK, so that there really was some sort of self-flagellation about that. And so what happened was what I like to call the endless diner series. So then everybody ran out into Middle America and tried to find the Trump voter when he was doing outrageous things and interview them and say, “Do you guys still like Trump because we’re talking to you in a diner? And do you still like him?” And I’d be like, “Yeah, we do.” And so that was the sort of we got to make up for the fact that we didn’t understand the Trump voter.
Jon: Why do you think coverage doesn’t focus on understanding the economic realities of how our country is hollowed out economically? Why is it so personality driven? And I don’t mean on the broadcast or end, but on the coverage end? Why do they not cover systems and outcomes? Why do they cover personalities?
Margaret: I mean, I’ll say two things about that. One is it’s hard. It’s hard for, you know, cable news to cover that. I would say. I do — and my second thing is, I actually do think that places like The Washington Post and The New York Times do a lot of that kind of coverage. It doesn’t get the same attention. You know, again, we’re so we’ve become so hyper partisan and so polarized that we tend to want our tribal instincts fed at all times and the media does cooperate with it. But I think there’s been a tremendous amount of really good investigative work and really good enterprise work and really good looking at those systems. And then, you know, Trump or Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley say something outrageous and it’s like, “Yeah, no, that’s an interesting story.”
Jon: I do think that there was a sense that the media was embattled.
Margaret: Oh yeah.
Jon: They were because they were being attacked. They were going to fight back and they were going to show him that, you know, they, it was a personal battle. Trump versus
Margaret: Jim Acosta.
Jon: Yeah, I mean. Right. And those kinds of bouts, you know, it was a prize fight and two heavyweights were going to slug it out to see. And the winner would be democracy or fascism. And it strikes me as you’re covering the wrong thing, that right?
Margaret: I mean, I will just note this one of the sort of sayings that came out of the Trump administration coverage was my boss at the time, Marty Baron, a revered editor who has since retired. But his, he said this off the cuff. But he said, “We’re not at war, we’re at work.” His point of view was we are actually not at war with the Trump administration. That’s not what we’re about. We’re trying to do the work of journalism. And I think that the coverage reflected that. I mean, I heard a lot of good things about The Post’s coverage during that time, and this was the crazy thing. If you looked at any one of these home pages of The Post, The Times, or a million other places. Wow. It was like every — almost every headline was Trump. And that was, I think, really bad.
Jon: They became incredibly myopic. But I would say that there was an era before Trump. And in that era was a very similar dynamic at play. He may have catalyzed that inferno to a hotter degree. But —
Margaret: Good metaphor.
Jon: Thank you. He understood the dynamic and how to play it and how to supercharge it.. But that dynamic has been in place. That dynamic of permanent campaign, of the polarities that will look at our right and left. And we’re incentivizing politicians to become crazier because that’s what gets the attention and that’s what gets the donations. And couldn’t they do a model as tenaciously as they cover this? Because you said earlier, like, it’s hard to cover that for cable news. And I think why? You got nothing but time, you’re on 24 hours a day.
Margaret: I’m quite sure that what would happen and I don’t like this, but I think it’s probably true is that it would not rate well. It would be considered kind of boring. “Let me go find my outrage somewhere else.” I still think it should happen because I agree with you that the media, the press, if you will, has to be public spirited to some extent. And so, you know, do the right thing. But it’s a corporation.
Jon: Be outraged but at the right thing. And I would disagree with you because when you look at the lack of transparency on Wall Street and the complexity of it, that is to the benefit of middlemen and to the negative of retail investors. If you look at a Democratic system where the Senate is affirmative action for old white dudes and the power shift in the Senate is socialism for rural states, it’s a redistribution of power that allows — there’s plenty of outrage that doesn’t exist on the right left polarity. There’s plenty of injustice. There’s plenty of unfairness. There’s plenty of corruption that works.
Margaret: That’s right. And that’s the citizen’s agenda that is looking at things from the point of view of the people you’re supposed to be serving by being a journalist. So I agree with you and I’d like to see more of that, and I think that there’s a great opportunity for it to.
Jon: Does that come from the corporate ownership or from like Jeff Zucker for everything he wanted, like Trump was his wet dream?
Margaret: Yeah. Well, he knew it well because he had basically helped invent him at The Apprentice at NBC. When Zucker was at NBC, NBC was in trouble. Zucker looked around and came up with Trump, and that was in the reality TV days. So then he knew very well once he went over to CNN that the answer to every prayer was, you know, the ratings machine. But who does it come from? I mean, at cable, at CNN in the Zucker era, that could have come from him. And I actually think they were starting to do some of that stuff. But in a big newspaper, I think it comes from the top of the newsroom, the executive editor not going against the corporation, but I think it has to be led at the top of other newsrooms. And, you know, I’m really happy to see some of that.
Jon: We talked to Bob Iger about it. You know, we were talking about some of these kinds of things. And I said, “Isn’t there oxygen for that kind of, with a muckraking spirit, with a sense of tenacity, with a sense of emotion and visceral storytelling but outside of the paradigm that they’ve established in this thing,” and he said, “Yeah, I think there is that I just don’t know if it’s viable.” And I thought that was —
Margaret: And we don’t really want to try, you know?
Jon: That was so depressing.
Margaret: We’d rather stick with what’s working, what’s driving us into the ground. It’s happening. You know, public trust is in the cellar with the media. And that’s a, you know, that’s a problem that’s —
Jon: But they’ve earned it. That’s not — it’s something tha I think has been well-earned and should be job one in terms of fighting against doing it. But what it seems like is people that are invested in polarization and wielding political power and obfuscation and corruption have figured out how to weaponize this game. It reminds me of when, if you remember, you know, the first televised debate it was Nixon-Kennedy and Kennedy was like, I’ll put on makeup. And Nixon was like, What does that matter? And you know —
Margaret: “I’m just going to sweat.”
Jon: “So I’ll sweat and look crazy. What difference does it” — but when new media comes along, it has the advantage for a second, and then the political power players learn how to weaponize it had him manipulate it. And right now, I think they’re getting their asses kicked. And they haven’t figured out how to fight back in the right way.
Margaret: Right. It calls for a radical change in the way we attract an audience. And I don’t know that I would love to think that conversation is taking place. Like, how can we get our audience to respond and to come to us by doing the coverage that’s most public spirited? I mean, you know, I have to be fair to my own employer. There is that thinking. There really is, but I don’t think it’s spread over across the media. I think that there’s some really good outlets, and I happen to think that The Washington Post is at the forefront of it. So.
Jon: But don’t they have if you go into their newsroom, if you look upon the board, isn’t it a click fest for what’s getting the most clicks? Aren’t they incentivized in the same way?
Margaret: Well, but you just said that they could be incentivized to do. I mean, sometimes a deep look at a really important issue coming at it from a totally different point of view will be up there. But you know, those stories are very labor intensive and they take a lot of time to do and we should do more of them. But yet one of the true issues is that what really gets a lot of attention, a lot of clicks, a lot of audience is opinion. And I know you said you can’t draw the line that carefully, but straight opinion, the columnists, they’re the ones who tend to have the most engagement.
Jon: But I think what I would say to news to journalists is actually the I think, maybe slightly the opposite of what you’re saying. I would say to them, have an opinion because good journalism is opinionated. Good journalism says “the way that we are treating workers in this country is an abomination or the meat and dairy industry have a monopoly. Good journalism is an opinion. It’s your feeling. You’re seeing something that is an injustice that needs to be corrected. That is a corruption check. And if you don’t approach it in that manner, then you’re producing something that is agnostic to democracy. That is —
Margaret: You don’t have to approach these stories like you’re talking about saying, “here’s what I think.” It’s that the framing of it, the fact that you went after it, the fact that you put your reporters on it for three months or six months or whatever.
Jon: That’s what I’m saying.
Margaret: That you have this kind of a headline on it. That’s the kind of I mean, I don’t really call that opinion, but I understand what you’re saying. I think it has to do with context and framing and deciding what you care about.
Jon: That’s right. It’s looking at our system and saying money is corrupting it. And here’s how. And here’s my examples, and here’s where you’re getting screwed in this, and here’s what we can do to do it. That’s not — that’s opinion, but it’s it’s a bias for right for non corruption.
Margaret: Right. I mean, I think we saw some of that happen after the murder of George Floyd, when a lot of the coverage became very oriented towards civil rights and towards racial injustice. I mean, not everybody liked that coverage, but it was a way that journalism was trying to meet the moment. And I think rightly so.
Jon: Do you think that the problem is that our media is no longer our collective memory, that it’s no longer the context that they’re reacting in real time as opposed to processing the events of the day in a way that can provide us context, perspective and footholds as opposed to working backwards, which is what’s trending on Twitter. Throw that up there.
Margaret: Yeah, I mean, so much of it is that we’ve got this firehose of stuff coming at us on our phones, right? It’s not like you’re going to go and pick up the newspaper. Not that there’s any magic to the fact that it’s ink on paper. That’s not the point. But there was a little time to process things and to put things in an order and say, Well, this is the most important story here. Now it’s so disaggregated, right? It’s like opinions coming at you. News is coming at you. Outrage is coming at you. And it’s not who knows what it is. And you are also getting a lot of it on social media where you’re already seeing what the algorithm is telling you, you want to see.
Jon: But shouldn’t the media contextualize that? Not narrated? Yeah. And you know, it was interesting when the Mueller report came out and it didn’t give them the escalation they wanted. It went into the memory hole. And it was gone. A story that dominated for two years was just gone.
Margaret: Yeah. Well, the real sin of that coverage to me was the way the media generally accepted Trump and Bill Barr’s framing of what the report said, which was not what the report said, it was not fully exonerated, that did not happen, but that’s what the headline said. And once that happened, well, then and then people were like, “Oh, that was the Russia hoax.” Well, it really wasn’t the Russia hoax, because a lot of that stuff was true and in the report. But because of the way it was spun very skillfully, by the way, diabolically.
Jon: But they shouldn’t be so easily manipulated.
Jon: Look, you can’t make a product for the craziest amongst us. You have to have — I think we’ve lost that internal barometer of what’s good information and what’s bad. And the media’s job is to provide it and to earn that integrity again.
Margaret: Yeah, I mean, I think that one of the really bad things that’s happened is in communities we really don’t have as much local news as we used to. Local newspapers are really, really, really suffering.
Jon: Or they’ve been weaponized by conservative outlets like Sinclair.
Margaret: Yeah some of that has happened, but more of what has happened is they’ve either gone out of business or become sort of specters of what they were. And so you and your neighbor and the people that you run into the grocery store no longer have the sort of common basis of reality that used to come with local news, the local newspaper, actually. So, you know, that’s actually a very big problem and one that I think should get some attention.
Jon: Do you see this turning around in any way? Is the opportunity at CNN right now to be a corrective? How we synthesize material, how we present that material, how we contextualize it?
Margaret: There has to be a vision and a will to do it. And I think that that needs really strong leadership.
Jon: How would you change it if you could tomorrow Margaret Sullivan’s network? What would that look like? Because clearly, the nuclear reactor of information are these 24 hours. They’re producing content, you know, twenty four hours a day, then the aggregators come in and they pick out the most outrageous stuff among it, or they frame it in the most outrageous way. And that’s what get it amplified. What would it look like?
Margaret: I would try to get our — I would have the network be more transparent about what we’re going to try to do now. “We’re actually going to change the way we do things. And here’s what we’re going to do. And you run ads and you talk to people and you do it at the top of every hour. This is our actually we think the media has failed and this is what we’re going to do differently. And we hope you’re we hope you’re going to come because so much of this does have to do with the public and how they react. And so, you know, give it a try.”
Jon: And not in a not in a cynical way where you’re just branding it, you mean in a real way.
Margaret: NO, it needs to be branded and talked about, but it’s not CYNICAL. I think it’s anything but cynical.
Jon: You see it going that way or no?
Margaret: I mean, not really. I don’t. I don’t. I’d like to think that, but I —
Jon: Margaret! You had me. I was right there with you, elevated me. I was so ready to follow you. And then you just pulled the rug out.
Margaret: Well, I mean, isn’t the Zucker job open? I don’t know. No, it’s not. It’s been filled. But you know, I don’t really think cable news is going to become the leader, the sort of moral leaders of our media. I think that has to come from newspapers and places like the Texas Tribune, the all digital places that do serve communities. You know, those places are great.
Jon: A grassroots approach that can be a model that can be, I guess, force amplified through smaller towns and outlets and things.
Margaret: Yes, absolutely, yeah.
Jon: All right. I dig that. That gave me some hope, Margaret. You had me. I was up on a mountain. I was ready to go with you. You pulled it out. But then you gave me a little bit of something at the end.
Margaret: OK, I want to do that. I want to leave things on a positive note.
Jon: Very, very nice. Margaret Sullivan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I really appreciate it. You were the author of ‘Ghosting the News: Local Journalism in the Crisis of American Democracy’ and you are the current media columnist at The Washington Post, which, as you know, is keeping democracy
Margaret: In the light. Yes.
Jon: Nicely done. Thank you so much for joining us.
Margaret: Thanks, Jon. Thanks for having me.
Jon: Oh my pleasure.
Jon: I can imagine during that conversation with Margaret, you were gripping your chair. You must have been going, champing at the bit to come in there and start swinging media takes.
Henrik: Brinda was watching this interview like she was watching her child’s wrestling meet. [JON LAUGHS] She was like, “Oh, that’s so good, Jon.”
Brinda: No, it’s true.
Henrik: “That’s so good, Jon. Oh yeah, you got it exactly right.”
Brinda: And I drink hard seltzer at all my children’s wrestling meets. I wouldn’t want you to know that.
Jon: That’s the funniest thing [BRINDA LAUGHS] that I’ve heard, and I will tell you this, and I didn’t want to say anything. I did the interview while wearing a unitard [BRINDA LAUGHS] so I knew that that was coming. Bah-BAM!
Henrik: You’re going to get chairburn if you swivel too fast.
Brinda: Damn. OK, y’all.
Jon: That was bad. All right. What did you hear that struck you? Where did you think — because I was surprised she kept saying, “We’re really good. And then each time she was like, Yeah, we f***ed that up.”
Jon: “Oh yeah, that no, that was bad. Oh yeah, that one.” And I’m like, “Right!”
Brinda: Right. Well, look, the thing that really struck me was her saying that we need a really radical change in the way we attract audiences because I think she’s right. I think that that’s ultimately what the game is. It’s about media right now. A lot of journalism is feeling like it’s game is attracting audiences and that is informing how they do content. So if that’s the problem, then we got to change how we attract audiences. But the thing that —
Jon: But isn’t that isn’t that the idea is backwards. It’s not about attracting an audience. It’s about creating a product that you think is the corrective to corruption. And the audience will come to that, like if you look at it as attracting an audience, you will, I think, lose. I think you have to look at it as what’s wrong? How do we fix it?
Henrik: I can’t remember who said it, but there is some sort of saying or quote out there that, “Nothing will kill a bad product faster than good marketing.” And it sounds like, Jon, you’re saying that to some degree of like, it’s this thing of like —
Jon: I believe there was Nipsey Russell. [BRINDA LAUGHS]
Henrik: Perhaps that is this thing of like they’re they’re so focused on getting eyes on the thing —
Jon: It’s backwards —
Henrik: And it’s like what are you showing us? And it’s like, why more commercials for our own thing?
Brinda: Well, it’s also her saying what the other thing I thought was interesting is that she basically was like, “Look, cable news isn’t going to be the moral leader in journalism.” And that ultimately is, are we trying to fix the wrong thing? And I look, we’re about to enter midterms. Trump has all but announced his presidency. I just feel like cable news is going to go back into this churn where all these politicians want to use it as like free stumping because that’s what they do. And cable news is the thing that plays in the halls of every newsroom and Congress, as you know, and all that stuff. So I feel like Cable is not going to go away. So I think there is value in trying to, like, make it into, if not a moral leader, because that sounds naive just —
Jon: It has to be. I think you just put your finger on it. I think dead on. It’s the dominant form of influence and communication right now in the American political system.
Brinda: For power.
Jon: And so it has to be the moral leader. Otherwise it’s just going to be used by crass power people. Which is what it is now, like none of us should know Ted Cruz’s name. I’m sorry. None of us.
Brinda: Listen, I feel like I know his middle name. I, actually, I don’t.
Jon: But I knew what seat he was on in the f***ing Montana airport. He was yelling at the people about.
Brinda: That’s right. But what’s interesting to Jon is that so many people say, I don’t know. When it comes to how to change it, right? Bob Iger said it. Margaret said it. And let’s do a call out right now. [BRINDA LAUGHS] Let’s do a call out to everybody listening to this podcast, which is how do you get public integrity back into TV news, into places where powerful people still use it as a platform, a place where it has an immense opportunity that despite shrinking audiences, there are still pretty big a** audiences. It’s still a big deal that Tucker Carlson gets three to four million people a night.
Jon: But also that that information gets pushed out like you’re creating content that is going to be cannibalized by all kinds of other outlets. So you’ve got to make sure that the food you make.
Jon: Is top notch, high quality. And I think they’ve got to ask themselves the question every time, is this clarifying or is this noise? And if it’s in the noise direction, f*** it. That’s out. And how do we make more clarity like it seems simpler?
Henrik: A question that came up for me a lot in this episode. That is a genuine, I don’t have the answer and I don’t know.
Jon: Now, Henrik, we need you to have the answer and you’ve got five minutes.
Henrik: Everyone’s counting on me to have the answers and —
Jon: Have the answer!
Brinda: Henrik, have the answer.
Henrik: Everyone needs to back off and let me finish Yellowjackets before I know the answer to media. These things are for profit that is diametrically opposed to what we are talking about, the moral responsibility to it and my ideal and my ideal world, the better their product is. You know what? They’re what you’re talking about of muckraking, in-depth reporting, adding context would be a product that would make them more money.
Henrik: But I genuinely have a question knowing how dumb I am. It’s would that make more money? I go back and forth between is the problem that the media powers that be are making arbitrary decisions based on what they think the audience is? Or is the audience actually getting exactly what it wants?
Jon: But what it wants doesn’t matter it. A crack dealer does very well.
Jon: But if you are an owner within the public trust, you cannot sell crack. You have to sell. Even sandwiches [BRINDA LAUGHS] would be better than crack.
Henrik: And that’s and I think —
Jon: I keep saying, don’t sell crack.
Henrik: And I think that’s what it comes down to for me is I’m like, well, CNN — it’s the thing that you’ve talked about that I think is true is there is the hypocritical nature of being like, we are a public service. But at the core, they are a TV channel. The same way that FX is. Just FX isn’t like we are a public service. They’re like we have 17 seasons of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ for whoever wants that.
Jon: Danny DeVito dies in darkness.
Henrik: Right and so that [JON LAUGHS] I think is like, the problem is if you’re —
Jon: Yeah. Yeah, OK.
Henrik: If your existence depends on people consuming your product, if you were like, I’m going to open a business, what am I going to sell? Gummy worms or lettuce? You’re going to be like, people are —
Jon: But then.
Henrik: — loving these gummy.
Jon: But then this is the climate conversation all over again, because then it’s just about like, OK, it’s then the problem is media consolidation and the fact that they think they owe more to their shareholders than they do to their viewers.
Jon: And if that’s the case, then we’re all f***ed.
Henrik: If we’re talking about new media. I think there is something to what you said and how the in-depth stories, the explainers, they actually do really well. I, for example, on Twitter, I follow what is the top 10 trending posts on Facebook for the previous day? Every day, it’s Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro, and then like a video from Upworthy. Right? But like, I think you’re right that if people did the work, did the lifting, did the really compelling stories that those could live in the new media landscape like Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro for as much as you might disagree. They have a mission. They’re like trying to do something. And I think you talked in the episode —
Jon: There’s an intentionality to it.
Henrik: Right. And their intentionality may be “I don’t want vaccines and I don’t want women to have jobs,” so we can be like, they’re intentionality is not so good. But like, it does seem like the media is just like, “we’re here and we’re talking about stuff.” And if they —
Jon: “We’re heroes.” They portray themselves as heroes, but they’re intentionality of the way they attack stories.
Henrik: I’m talking about a viral TikTok muckraker is what we need.
Jon: Unfortunately, their trap —.
Henrik: News Batman.
Jon: They’re trapped in a maze of their own, making of an escape room that they don’t have the clues to get out of.
Jon: And if they were to get outside of it and realize they could build a a system that is more resilient and robust and moral and intentional, they can do it. They have the infrastructure, they have the good smart people that are driven to do it. They’ve trapped all these people in a maze of corporate design. And what is f***ing Rupert Murdoch? What is he up to? Why is he trying to destroy the Western world order? Does anyone know? That’s just a separate episode.
Brinda: Oh my goodness.
Henrik: Here’s the thing that has anyone ever been better at their job —
Brinda: Than Rupert Murdoch?
Henrik: — than Ruper Murdoch?
Jon: I don’t know.
Henrik: I fear that I will die because of how well he’s done his job. [BRINDA LAUGHS]
Jon: Imagine if your family business was destroying liberal democracy. Like, “What’s your business?” I run like a cabinet company with my kids. You know, we do something. It’s very nice. What do you do?” “I destroy freedom and all that is good.”
Henrik: “We started a little small business making the entire world not aware of or believing in climate change.” [BRINDA LAUGHS]
Jon: That’s right.
Brinda: Look, one of the things I think about is maybe part of this is is there a world in which some of these big conglomerates can absorb news at a loss? Like do we just separate it?
Jon: But really, they wouldn’t even have to. CNN makes almost a billion. They have the money. It’s not like nobody would watch it. They wouldn’t absorb a loss.
Brinda: Well, that’s the thing I don’t know. And look, I hear what you’re saying if you look at the networks right now, which I know in terms of impact, driving social conversation and politicians and things like that, it’s very different. But I’m still sort of astounded by the numbers that they’re able to bring in per night. You know, nine million viewers for World News Tonight, things like that per night, which is like the —
Jon: Very handsome show. Very handsome.
Brinda: Yes. And he’s a lovely person. I would just like to say. But all that, to say all that, to say that on World News Tonight Show, I worked out for many, many years. And look, I think it does a lot of great journalism. But to be honest, it also employs a lot of the tactics of cable news, and it’s driven a lot by what’s trending on social media. And if it’s stop doing that and if it started leading more straight and just who, what, where and why, and some of the public integrity mission stuff that Margaret Sullivan is talking about that we’ve been talking about in the show say they did started losing ratings. So what? Like, they’re owned by Disney. Disney owns the Avengers and Star Wars. They make so much money. Why can’t they just absorb the loss of a news show that is going public integrity first? What would it look like for some of these companies to not? Because there’s there, there’s a part of it that I do wonder that like, look, if you’re the kind of person who who wants to be informed a certain way and doesn’t necessarily want Ukraine and all that stuff, there is an entire world wide web for you, right of information that you can go to. It does not need to be married to this other content. And then the other thing I think about is if it is a public service, then let’s treat it like a public service. You have to like, actually apply to get licenses to, you know, work in a lot of public services. But I think about it like it doesn’t take anything to be a journalist anymore. It used to.
Jon: A f***ing great idea.
Brinda: But like why don’t we actually make it harder to enter the profession and decide what it looks like?
Jon: Information as infrastructure. Good information is infrastructure. It’s the roads and bridges of a healthy democracy. Brinda, I think that’s such a good idea.
Jon: But just the thought. I don’t know if licensing is the right way to go.
Brinda & Henrik: Licensing!
Henrik: We’re gonna get licensing trending on Twitter.
Brinda Make Licensing Sexy Again.
Jon: No, but I think what Brinda is saying is right is treating it like infrastructure, like something that is necessary to the health of everything else.
Brinda: Yeah, if you’re saying democracy dies in darkness will f***. If democracy really died in darkness, we would be having like a DEFCON five, like meeting in the National Security Council and in the war room, trying to figure out how to make democracy not die in darkness. So let’s give it that, you know?
Jon: If Brinda can make this much sense on how many wines, how many wines?
Brinda: Just one, God. So judgy.
Jon: 28 wines. [JON LAUGHS]
Henrik: She’s got a seltzer CamelBak.
Brinda: I would just like everyone to know that I do not drink. I just, I was a little nervous ahead of this. So my producer Sophie handed me one of these because she thought it would chill me out. And let me tell you something, it worked. I felt very relaxed.
Jon: Would you have gone with in any way because the modern version of that is like the gummy? Would you have gone gummy? Or that’s too much.
Brinda: Oh, yeah. And I don’t do that.
Jon: I didn’t suggest that you would.
Brinda: My God. The things people would say. Apple would fire me.
Jon: They would never!
Brinda: No. Plus, it’s legal in many states.
Henrik: Oh, Apple would fire. Apple piss test me every week.
Henrik: Separately, a guy comes in. He’s like, “Apple piss testing.”
Jon: Can I tell you something, Henrik?
Henrik: Pee in this mason jar now.
Jon: That should be the name of this podcast.
Henrik: Apple Piss Testing.
Brinda: Piss testing.
Jon: Apple Piss Testing Every Week.
Henrik: I have to say things like that on this podcast because I don’t want to fall in the trap of like being like, “Well, here’s what I think the media should do, because I’m just thinking.”
Jon: No you have to.
Henrik: And really what I’m here for is Apple piss tests me.
Jon: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, You’re there for those quick quips, they’re terrific. But it’s about your opinions and what you think.
Jon: We’re done with today’s episode. Henrik is off to be pee tested, which usually comes after podcast.
Henrik: It takes 45 minutes.
Jon: I don’t really know why. Thank you so much, Henrik. Thank you so much, Brinda. Thank you to Margaret Sullivan for being here for more content from The Problem. We got a newsletter. Subscribe to The Problem dot com. Check out the Apple TV+ show. A link in the episode description. But by the way, the day that this podcast airs, I believe, will be March 24th and it is our white people episode. And I think people are going to want to tune in because we learned some things about white people.
Brinda: It was a good one. Y’all don’t want to miss that one. Trust me.
Jon: No, I don’t. I don’t think they do. Thank you so much. Let us know your thoughts. Twitter, the email. Whatever it is you do.
Henrik: Email Jon.
Brinda: The Twitter.
Jon: But excellent, excellent job, guys.
Brinda: That was so fun.
Henrik: And you too, Jon.
Brinda: And you too.
Jon: Oh, stop it.
Jon: The Problem With Jon Stewart Podcast is an Apple TV+ podcast and a joint Busboy Production.