"Pat Philbin, the man who staged a fake FEMA news conference on the California wildfires last week, has lost his promotion because of the event, which begs the question: What does it actually take to get fired from FEMA?" That was the lead story on the latest installment of "Weekend Update," the faux news broadcast on "Saturday Night Live."
Something bothered me about this, and not just Amy Poehler's misuse of the phrase "begs the question." Nor was it the idea that FEMA's staged news conference was scandalous simply because reporters, listening by phone, weren't able to ask questions while FEMA bureaucrats lobbed "fake" questions. There's no such thing as fake questions, after all, only fake answers. Was FEMA's fabrication any more fraudulent than, say, press releases written like real news stories? Video "newsitorials" edited for easy rebroadcast by local news stations?
Yes, FEMA's fakery was foolish. But - and here's what really bugs me - what isn't in the TV news business these days?
Consider the irony: Poehler was co-anchoring a fake news broadcast denouncing a fake news conference. All the while, the guest host of "Saturday Night Live" was NBC's real news anchor, Brian Williams.
Or take Stephen Colbert, host of a fake cable news show, "The Colbert Report," itself a spinoff from the fake newscast "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." Colbert was recently a guest on "Meet the Press" - the Thunderdome of real news - as he was trying to mount a bogus campaign for president (abandoned Monday). Colbert stayed in character. So did Tim Russert, grilling Colbert as if he were a real candidate, of sorts.
The exchange vexed Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor of Time.com, who rightly ridiculed the stunt as "painfully so-ironic-it-was-unironic." Cox has a good ear for such things: Her own meteoric rise started with her tenure as the founding Wonkette blogger, where she mocked newsmakers the way robots mocked bad movies on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Cox sized up the Colbert-Russert show as cringe-worthy - bad journalism because it was bad entertainment.