We’re going to say that it wasn’t: Two weeks back, Chris Hayes did a segment on All In that carried a written warning:
“The following is a satirization of recent news analysis.”
Dating back to Jon Stewart’s hour of advice to Rachel Maddow in 2010, we’re largely opposed to actual journalists performing satirizations. We stand with Stewart’s apparent message to Maddow that night—her job as an actual journalist is more important than that.
That said, the New York Times’ David Carr wrote an interesting column last week about Hayes’ satirization segment. But first, let’s enjoy Carr’s portrait of what cable news is now like:
CARR (8/5/13): [The segment] was both striking and very much of a piece with the universe it was parodying. Is “Fox and Friends” real? Does Chris Matthews really feel all shout-y and frantic about every little wobble in the political debate? Can Mr. O’Reilly really be as deeply offended by almost everything he sees, or Rachel Maddow as surprised as she acts about things that aren’t that surprising? At some point, we all know that Anderson Cooper’s bottomless pit of empathy and umbrage is running on empty.Carr skipped Hayes’ persona, which has earned him a nickname—The Puppy. By the way, with respect to O’Reilly, we can answer Carr’s question:
Back to the satirization at issue: Here’s how Carr described the segment at the start of his piece:
CARR: On Tuesday night on MSNBC’s “All In,” Chris Hayes had a very direct conversation about race with the Gawker writer Cord Jefferson. Prompted by a news report of a group of young people in Huntington Beach, Calif., who looted and vandalized property, the pair lamented the lack of community leadership and suggested that acting out in that manner was a learned behavior.To watch the full segment, click here.
It was a joke. Actually, there were two beats to the joke. The young people they were talking about were white. And the whole discussion was a put-on, a satire meant to show how lame the hoary race tropes of cable news have become.
As a comedy bit, it was very well done. Both men were straight-faced and earnest. Mr. Hayes, tapping his inner Bill O’Reilly, did a fine job of bloviating his way through an introduction heavy with outrage: “The story of the white criminal culture is not a story the mainstream media will tell you. But once you scratch the surface, these stories are everywhere you look.”
Mr. Jefferson, whose post on Gawker prompted the TV bit, was the designated finger-wagging scold (a black man taking measure of white pathology). “These young people are learning this kind of behavior in lacrosse camps,” he said. “They’re learning this kind of behavior at college spring break. They’re learning this kind of behavior at Ivy League fraternities where drug use and binge drinking are normalized behavior.”
We saw the segment in question that night. Was it funny? In our view, not that much, but opinions will differ. In our view, the main problem was the fact that the segment appeared on a cable program that is supposed to be news.
Presumably, the segment was meant to “satirize” O’Reilly’s commentaries on problems afflicting the black community, commentaries which had been drawing a lot of attention. Was something wrong with O’Reilly’s presentations? If so, it might be the job of a news/opinion/analysis program to explain what that was.
This past weekend, Don Lemon continued his discussion of such topics on CNN. Lemon has invited a wide array of guests to take part in this ongoing discussion. This weekend, “anti-racism educator” Tim Wise joined Lemon on the air for an extended discussion. Wise has been a guest on Lemon's program many times.
Because the subject is so important, so are Lemon’s discussions with Wise and others. Here’s the problem with the Hayes segment: At best, it was a comedy segment. But a comedy segment doesn’t explain what is wrong with the conduct or views being satirized.
There’s a reason why crime in the black community—in Chicago or Baltimore, let us say—gets discussed more often than “a handful of individuals trashing outhouses and a bike store after a surfing contest,” the video the Hayes show played behind its comedy segment.
What makes urban crime an actual problem—an actual problem that gets discussed? Good decent young people lose their lives when other young people lose their way in the turmoil of our urban environments! In Chicago, Hadiya Pendleton lost her life this year. In Baltimore, Diamond Williams lost hers. These were beautiful young people who had done everything right every day of their lives. It’s great that Hayes sees this as funny stuff, but it pretty much isn’t.
In our view, The Puppy ought to get off his blanket and explain what O’Reilly has said that is wrong. Our recollection of his own channel’s conduct this year is a bit unflattering:
When Pendleton was killed in Chicago shortly after Inaugural Day, the incident got a lot of national coverage. But Darling Rachel ran and his behind the white kids who died in Newtown; she let Pendleton get thrown down the stairs. The white victims mattered to Rachel that month, as of course they should have. The black victim in Chicago did not.
And yes, this is very much the way white hosts on that channel tend to treat issues of race. Except when they are reading from mandated tribal scripts, it’s plain that they really don’t care.
(No one cares about everything.)
Those shootings provided the perfect chance to say the following: Hadiya Pendleton was from Newtown too—and the Newtown kids were from Chicago! Rachel didn’t have it in her to include the darker sib.
Neither did anyone else on that rattletrap, self-impressed channel.
Now, The Puppy is joking and pushing his glasses back over the humor of surfing riots. Elsewhere, people are actually talking about possible causes of urban violence because it is an actual problem—because actual people, very good people, just keep losing their lives as other young people lose their way in life.
Hayes got busy faking his facts about the death of Trayvon Martin. Williams and Pendleton got thrown away—and The Puppy was soon on the TV machine laughing about O’Reilly.
What did O’Reilly say that is wrong? Hayes ought to apologize for thinking this is a joke, and then he ought to answer that question. He ought to talk it over with Lemon, and with other people whose basic instincts may not be his own—whose talking points aren’t being dictated by the need to pleasure a tribe, thus building an audience and helping him reap those huge paydays.
Surfing riots aren’t much of a problem. That may explain why they don’t get discussed.
O’Reilly is discussing an actual problem. What has he said about that problem that is wrong? Now that Hayes has had his good solid fun, maybe he can drop the satirizations and give his viewer an answer.
Given the way his channel works, it might be better if he doesn't try.
There are always professors like this: There is always some professor somewhere who can’t wait to react like this:
CARR: The segment on “All In” began with a written warning—“the following is a satirization of recent news analysis”—and ended with a return to preachiness, with Mr. Hayes wagging a finger, this time he meant it, and suggesting that viewers needed to see that coverage of black America was just as silly.The segment was “very powerful” in what way? Until someone explains what’s actually wrong with the statements others are making, everyone gets to diddle himself and author his own understanding.
But it was still a bit of a moment. Instead of waiting for Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert to clip and annotate cable vapidity, MSNBC was temporarily acting as a kind of self-cleaning oven, parodying the excesses of cable from a very near distance.
“I think it was sort of brilliant,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, the director of the Peabody Awards at the University of Georgia, and the author of “Entertaining Politics.” “What they did has been done before in all kinds of ways, but the context, of putting the satire right into a cable news show, makes it very powerful.”
Is cable coverage of black America “just as silly” as Hayes’ segment about that surfing riot? Yes, it is—if Williams and Pendleton are just chew toys The Puppy can throw away.