"In Jon Stewart we trust"
The Star (Canada)
November 5, 2002
by Antonia Zerbisias


For election news turn to comedy, not to CNN

When an American comedy show provides more incisive election coverage than most media outlets in that country, you have to agree a great democracy is going down the tube.

All last week, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, seen on Canada's Comedy Network, was in Washington doing its "fake news" thing with "Indecision 2002." Tonight at 11, it's going live. (Bits from last week are available at http://southpark.comcentral.com.)

What's scary is, it's almost more credible than CNN, which has gone with SniperVision rather than intelligent reporting on the tight races for control of government.

It's no better at the local level. Studies by the USC Annenberg School of Communication and the University of Wisconsin reveal that political candidates get 9.5 seconds to make their points and two thirds of local newscasts had no coverage at all.

Seems democracy isn't good for ratings. Which is why I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at CNN's promo, a 90-second trailer that has been running between Winona Ryder and Posh Spice reports. It features CNN stars pumping up tonight's coverage, warning viewers that "everything hangs in the balance" with the vote.

And it does. So why didn't CNN give it more attention?

JOLLY JOURNALISTS: Gotta admit: We're a breed of bitchers, always complaining and carping.

So imagine my surprise when, Saturday night at the opening gala of The 17th Gemini Awards, the CTV News crew was all smiles. Not because they took home armloads of awards — CBC scooped them there — but because, with CTV News vet Robert Hurst now chief of the department, things are starting to look up.

What a difference a year makes. Last year at the Geminis, many CTV journos were too scared to be seen with me, thanks to a critical column I had just written about their former boss Kirk LaPointe.

But on Saturday, two giants of Canadian journalism, both household names, could not contain their delight when I asked them how it was going now. They, and others, regaled me with LaPointe horror stories. Ratings, especially for Canada AM, were tanking; no replacement for co-host Rod Black had been named; national bureaus were unstaffed and, in a time of terror, there was nobody in the Jerusalem correspondent post.

Just a few weeks into the job, Hurst has already hired talktv alumnus Seamus O'Regan to join Lisa LaFlamme on the Canada AM couch. Other announcements will follow soon.

Speaking of the Geminis, a glowing Beverly Thompson was one of Saturday's presenters. She returned to the Global anchor desk last night after a four-month absence — and a battle with breast cancer. From the look of her, she won.

SPIN CYCLE: Not everybody is wining the newspaper war. It just seems that way.

Media junkies who pored over last Saturday's papers might have been puzzled as to how it is that circulation numbers for The Star, The Globe and Mail and The National Post are "on the rise" and "continue to soar." All three papers reported on the latest ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations) numbers, which cover the six months ending Sept. 30, 2002, with some front-page play pointing to detailed stories in the business sections.

But even the most determined statistician would have found it tough to determine who was really up or down, and in comparison to what — at least based on those newspaper stories.

So were the news war combatants cheating, comparing apples to oranges, massaging the numbers to put up the best face possible?

"No, they can't cheat; it's one of the rules," says ABC senior vice president Bob White, explaining that all three newspapers are members of the non-profit association.

All of them have agreed to compare apples-to-apples in their coverage of the numbers. That means comparing specific time periods with specific time periods and specific types of circulation, paid or bulk (which includes freebies), with specific type of circulation. That's where the spin comes in.

Referring to the weekend news reports, White observes: "Each newspaper has heightened the strength of its own circulation story."

Some newspapers might have had a harder time than others doing that. Which could explain the rumours that Conrad Black is hoping to buy back The Post from the Aspers — for 55 per cent of what he sold it for a couple of years ago.


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