Aaron Swartz on the Daily Show

in General Discussion edited January 2014

Watch the Comedians: The Daily Show

The State Department issued an annual report on terrorist attacks which said 2003 had the lowest number of terrorist acts in 34 years. The report was trumpeted as clear evidence the War on Terror was working. There was just one problem ? the report was wrong. Terrorist attacks had increased sharply. What was the cause of the mistake? Amazingly, the report was sent to the printers in November, so it didn?t count any terrorist attacks that took place afterwards.

What a huge blatant obvious deception. (How unethical do you have to be before you compare a semi-annual report with an annual one?) Colin Powell made the rounds to spin it.

2004-06-10, NBC Nightly News: Covered the error, but not the cutoff.

2004-06-11, NBC?s Today: Ditto.

2004-06-11, London?s Financial Times: Ditto.

2004-06-11, Washington Post, page A09, paragraph 4:

Among the mistakes, [State Department spokesman Richard] Boucher said, was that only part of the year 2003 was taken into account.

2004-06-12, London?s Daily Telegraph: Covered the error, but not the cutoff.

2004-06-13, Meet the Press:

POWELL: Well, we?re not. The data in our report is incorrect. If you read the narrative of the report, it makes it clear that the war on terror is a difficult one, and that we?re pursuing it with all of the means at our disposal. But something happened in the data collection, and we?re getting to the bottom of it. Teams have been working for the last several days and all weekend long. I?ll be having a meeting in the department tomorrow with CIA, other contributing agencies, the Terrorist Threat Information Center, and my own staff to find out how these numbers got into the report. Some cutoff dates were shifted from the way it was done in the past. There?s nothing political about it. It was a data collection and reporting error, and we?ll get to the bottom of it and we?ll issue a corrected report. And I?ve talked to Congressman Waxman. [emphasis added]

Powell doesn?t give any more details about the source and Tim Russert doesn?t ask.

2004-06-13, This Week with George Stephanopolous:

POWELL: The numbers that were in the report were in error, and we are analyzing where the errors crept in. There is a new terrorist threat information center that compiles this data under the CIA, and we are still trying to determine what went wrong with the data and why we didn?t catch it in the State Department.

Stephanopolous doesn?t push Powell on what exactly went wrong, even though he clearly new. (Later he says the report ?did things like cut off November 11th?.)

2004-06-13, CNN?s Inside Politics: Covered the error, but not the cutoff.

2004-06-13, CNN?s CNN Live Sunday: Ditto.

2004-06-13, United Press International: Ditto. (In fairness, UPI ran a story the next day with the headline ?Terror report left out two months?. So good for them.)

2004-06-14, Associated Press: Ditto.

2004-06-14, LA Times: Ditto.

2004-06-14, Seattle Times: Ditto.

2004-06-14, Newsday:

Powell said the report?s data were incomplete and that information had been cut off at certain dates in a manner inconsistent with earlier terrorism reports. ?It was a data collection and reporting error, and we?ll get to the bottom of it and we?ll issue a corrected report,? Powell said.

This was the very last paragraph and completely incomprehensible (?certain dates in a manner inconsistent??!).

New York Times: Didn?t even cover the subject in print! Truly, slaves to the Bushes.

2004-06-14, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, top story:

STEWART: But let?s begin tonight with some good news in the war on terror. Two weeks ago the State Department released its survey of worldwide terrorist acts in 2003 and it turns out the number of such acts was at its lowest level since 1969. At the time, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage drew the only logical conclusion:

ARMITAGE: You will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight.

STEWART: You see that, people? Stop focusing on events outside in the world and start looking at these pages! You?ll find that if you look at the pages, ehhh, we?re doing quite well. Counterterrorism coordinater Cofer Black, do we have the terrorists on the ropes?

BLACK: They are truly under catastrophic stress, they are very defensive.


STEWART: Booya! In your face, bin Laden! We are taking you down. Yeaaaah! (touches his ear, as if receiving a word from the control room) Wait, I?m sorry, I?m being told that?s all completely wrong. I?m sorry.

Yes, as it turns out, the government now acknowledges the terrorism report was badly flawed and grossly undercounted the number of attacks last year. Which in reality was among the bloodiest years ever for terrorism.

The NEWS BOX changes to read ?WAR ON ERROR?.

Uhhhh, oops.

Among the report?s omissions: three huge bombings, one in Saudi Arabia and two in Turkey, which weren?t included because?this is true?they took place in November, after the report apparently needed to go to the printers. Apparently our government is run by the same people who put out your high-school yearbook.

The report is so strewn with mistakes, a State Department official says the corrections may fill eight pages. California congressman Henry Waxman, who condemned the report when it was released, has now stepped up his criticism:

WAXMAN: The, uh, report, uh, was based on inaccurate information and they drew political conclusions which were self-serving for the administration.

STEWART: You know, they?ve, uh, kind of been doing that for a while now. I?m, uh, ? it?s getting ridiculous. Boy, who?s the poor sucker who?s gotta get out there and defend this one?

POWELL: [nods]

RUSSERT: That is embarassing.

POWELL: Very embarassing. I?m not a happy camper.

STEWART: (as an aside) And you know, ever since this war began, it seems like Colin Powell has had a very poor camp experience. I?d be surprised to see him come back next summer to this camp.

(back to newsman voice) But Powell insists there was no evil intention:

POWELL: There was no intent to mislead or cook the books in any way. So far it appears to be an honest administrative error.

STEWART: ?Honest error.? Eight pages of corrections. The first page or two? Honest errors. Third page? Perhaps a questionable half-truth. By page six? You?re f[BLEEP]ing lying. You?re lying. And that?s, uh, that?s, oh?

The State Department announced it will soon release a revised version of the report, which is expected to be the most widely revised document since 2003?s ?Gay Marriage Kills Ponies?.

My point is not that this specific news was extremely meaningful. Instead, it?s a case study. There was an extremely obvious failure by our government, yet the media didn?t trumpet it. There was a press conference to discuss it, yet nobody would question it. The head of the department that made the error appeared on several news shows for a one-on-one interview on the subject, yet he wasn?t asked any probing questions about it.

Instead, the media simply acted as megaphones for the government. (The New York Times went further, scuttling a story news that was embarrassing.) They abdicated their responsibility. And a comic had to do their job.

The Daily Show?s staff consists mostly of comedians, not journalists. Yet they were able to give this story the coverage that, as far as I can tell, only one other news source (UPI) did. This is no one-time occurance. The Daily Show is routinely the most on-top-of-things source for news, while also being extremely entertaining. The show is far more fair and accurate than most major media and they do in-depth political analysis of the Bush administration that New York Times readers can only dream of.

The show is good, to be sure, but perhaps the more interesting question is: Why are all the other mainstream news source so unspeakably bad?


  • Reply 1 of 6
    talksense101talksense101 Posts: 1,737member
    I thought this was a good read and analysis on the mainstream news media. P.S. It is good publicity for my choice for president -- John Stewart.
  • Reply 2 of 6
    northgatenorthgate Posts: 4,461member
    My wife and I routinely joke everynight at 11:00, "it's time for the real news."

    I absolutely love The Daily Show and Jon Stewart's delivery style. While I take it all in as humor, the show often transcends itself into some remarkable and brilliant commentary.
  • Reply 3 of 6
    brussellbrussell Posts: 9,812member
    So, who's Aaron Swartz?
  • Reply 4 of 6
    shawnjshawnj Posts: 6,656member
    "Gay Marriage Kills Ponies"
  • Reply 5 of 6
    andersanders Posts: 6,523member
    When DS is the best thing that hit TV since colours:


    When they waste airtime:

  • Reply 6 of 6
    talksense101talksense101 Posts: 1,737member

    Originally posted by BRussell

    So, who's Aaron Swartz?

    Here is a quote from this guy's website.


    Aaron Swartz is a teenage writer, coder, and hacker. He was a finalist for the ArsDigita Prize for excellence in building non-commercial web sites at the age of 13. At 14 he co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification, now used by thousands of sites to notify their readers of updates. He's a member of the W3C's RDF Core Working Group which is developing the format for the Semantic Web and Metadata Advisor to the Creative Commons. He's also the author of rss2email, xmltramp, HTML diff, and html2text. [More...]


    Some of his blog posts are good to read. NetNewsWire comes preloaded with a subscription to his blog entry. I read it once and kept it subscribed since to read it when I feel like it.
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