Six years ago Jon Stewart mercilessly made fun of a segment I produced. My first reaction when I saw this, sitting at my desk at work, was to laugh along with the studio audience on TV and raise my hands above my head in a little show of mock triumph. It was the response of an elementary school kid who'd just split his pants and was left with no choice but to revel in his role as the butt of the joke or risk just making things worse. So I laughed. I would've laughed had it not been my segment he was mocking, so it seemed only fair to take my lumps.
At the time, I wrote about it in a piece for my blog, leaving out where I worked and what the exact segment was. Obviously, I was working for CNN. The segment, it can now be revealed, was an Alina Cho spot for American Morning affectionately slugged "Death Fridge." The live in-and-out on it had Alina going through the break-room refrigerator on our floor as a way of showing, I guess, that there are things lurking in your own refrigerator that can kill you -- certainly if you had an asshole copy editor living in your home with a habit of bringing in badly wrapped fish and broccoli for lunch and forgetting about it for weeks.
I remember thinking how brilliant it was that Stewart had made a highly profitable game out of criticizing cable news -- and how depressing it was that we gave him so much material to work with. As I said in 2007, journalists, like everyone else, make mistakes. They screw up. There are blooper reels lining the old file rooms of every news department in America, and most of them are a riot. But The Daily Show rarely points out those moments which happen by accident -- that's because it doesn't have to. These days, even in the product of the most respected and venerated media outlets in the country, there are entire swaths of outright absurdity -- intended absurdity -- that are ripe for ridicule.
The hard work for which journalists aren't simply paid but likewise are expected to hold in high esteem and to a standard of excellence befitting their incredible responsibility is often, instead, tainted from inception. It's allowed to be a bad joke from the get-go -- the producer forced to bring it to fruition risking a quiet embarrassment; the reporter or anchor whose face presents it, risking public mockery.
In the five years since I left CNN, things have only gotten worse there when it comes to upfront stupidity. Stewart hasn't just continued to rip CNN, he's actually concentrated fire on it more than any other news outlet besides maybe the terminally ridiculous Fox News. But rarely has he highlighted something that's so embarrassing for the network that I actually find myself cringing on behalf the people I know who still work there: the producers behind the scenes and the talent on-air who show up every day, work hard, and have to leave knowing they've contributed such nonsense.
I haven't watched "American Morning V 3.0," otherwise known as New Day, otherwise I would've spotted this myself and written about it had I been able to pick my jaw up off the floor, but the show's "sponsored couch walk" is sincerely one of the dumbest things I've ever seen any cable network do on purpose as a show feature. It's awkward because it makes no sense and exists solely as needless set-anchor choreography; it's offensive because it's a sponsored moment, and terribly, invasively sponsored at that, possibly the most blatant and inexcusable case yet of advertising actually intruding on a broadcast.
There used to be a rule in news that was strictly adhered to: you kept advertising and editorial completely separate, for obvious reasons. This line has of course been blurred as time has passed and the corporate owners of news departments have sought new, clever ways to make their broadcasting arms profitable. This, though, is just inexcusably asinine.
Years ago I thought the "Death Fridge" was awful, and so did Jon Stewart. But this? This makes that look like a MacNeil-Lehrer Production. It could very well be the most embarrassing scripted feature I've ever seen in a newscast.