Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Jon Stewart Versus Paul Krugman

So Jon Stewart and Paul Krugman have been having a halfhearted battle of words with each other. It started when last Thursday evening Stewart made some fun of the idea of minting a trillion dollar coin and depositing it in the Treasury, an idea that Krugman had somewhat promoted recently. Now, Stewart said this sounded like a silly idea all on its own, and also a silly way to pay down the national debt. In that context, Stewart mocked the amount, why not make it a 20 trillion dollar (our current debt being 16 trillion)or some other utterly absurd amount.

Let me say right here that in the absence of any other information, the coin does sound pretty damn stupid or silly.

But anyone who reads Paul Krugman knows the trillion dollar coin is not about paying down the debt per se, it was intended to be an option should the House of Representatives refuse to raise the debt ceiling (again) without the President agreeing to eliminate Social Security, Medicare or both plus Big Bird.

OK, even in that context the trillion dollar coin is still pretty silly, but at least we can see at as a sign of how bad things are getting in Congress, that a President might have to do something like that.

Now, I have to admit the CNN piece the Daily Show first aired to describe the coin mentioned paying on the debt, but Stewart's researchers should have gone out and actually read a Krugman column or blog post, or any of the other economists or columnists talking about this. Not doing so, or doing so and then allowing Stewart's comedian writers or Stewart himself to get the issue wrong seemed at least lazy.

Which is what Krugman said on Saturday in a blog post, and again on ABC News (This Week with whats his name?). Krugman stated that he thinks the Daily Show tries for "knowing jokes", intelligent humor, but their take on the coin was just dumb. That the Daily Show was damaging it's "brand".

Stewart countered on Monday with a series of (in my opinion) weak statements - he thinks the Daily Show's brand is dumb (yeah, sometimes), Stewart admitted there are other points of view but implied he didn't have time for them, and then stood by his characterization of the trillion dollar coin as a dumb (expletive) idea.

Again, yeah, the coin is dumb but Stewart totally ignored the context in which the coin was proposed ... again.

Now, if the Daily Show were some program on Fox News, or CNN, MSNBC or even the late, apparently unlamented Current TV, then we might well shrug. But the Daily Show is two things that separate it from those other shows. First, it is fairly smart. Daily Show viewers are among the best informed people compared to other channels and media outlets. Which I believe Stewart himself has mentioned on occasion (while being modest about in an insincere way).

And second, the Daily Show regularly goes after news programs on other channels, particularly on Fox News. Being the show that knowingly mocks other news shows places a burden on the Daily Show to get its own coverage right. If you want to skewer Bill O'Reilly for some piece of hypocrisy, there is no hiding behind a "We're just a dumb comedy show" when you are caught peddling your own misinformation.

Instead of, on Monday, a) claiming stupidity, b) making a vague statement about other points of view and then c) repeating that you think the coin is stupid, Stewart should have said a) we learned/knew the coin was intended to be a means of temporarily raising the debt ceiling by executive order, b) we did not describe the context that was forcing people to resort to outlandish ideas like a trillion dollar coin, namely, the Republican intransigence over the debt ceiling, and the devastating consequences if the Republican controlled House refused to raise it. And that point Stewart would then be entitled to a c) the coin is still a pretty stupid idea anyway.

We would have all laughed but also breathed a sigh of relief that Jon Stewart was not, in fact, turning into Steve Doocy (ow do you even spell that name?).

Stewart did say he is a fan of Paul Krugman, which is nice, although clearly Stewart is not a regular reader of Krugman. The Daily Show should have Krugman on soon as a guest, although it occurs to me that there are also any number of skit things Krugman could do.


spork_incident said...

Stewart's hiding behind the oh-I'm-just-an-entertainer excuse.

Sometimes Limbaugh does that as well.


EdHeath said...

Right, except that I think Stewart wants to appear more responsible than Limbaugh. I'm told "It's just a comedy show", but I don't watch much of anything else on Comedy Central (except Colbert). I think Krugman is right, the Daily Show has a brand even if they don't want it. And this issue is damaging the brand.

Nine-El said...

Do we have a debt, deficit, spending problem? Or is it just not enuf tax collected? What does the Krugman think? What's your take?

Nine-El said...

If it is the case of both... what is the compromise position?