It just so happens that at precisely the same time that NBC is trying to sort out the fictional aspects of the anchorman Brian Williams accounts of reality, over at Comedy Central John Stewart has called it quits in his role as fictional anchorman with massive influence over the way many of us see and deal with reality. It is even further amusing that his conservative counterpart Stephen Colbert is now moving fully into mainstream late-night entertainer.
A lot has changed about the way we get our news. And much has changed in what we call entertainment.
I am reminded of the oft-cited research that claims a majority of young people get their news from such programs hosted by Stewart and Colbert. The truth is, these sort of satirical offerings are a source of insight and perspective and generally do not serve as a source of news, rather as a means to make sense of it all. [See http://www.adweek.com/tvnewser/comedy-central-study-a-majority-of-millennials-still-get-news-from-tv/151887].
That said, what is it then that Brian Williams and the dinnertime gang bring to the party? Not enough obviously. Their programs feature lots of paid messages about prescription drugs that sooth the maladies of the aging (which seems to be focused on physiological activity between the belly and the knees. Those ads are a reliable indicator of the demographic makeup of their audience. However,, the silver haired bunch is literally dying off and if creative anchors like Williams want to be relevant they must reach out to the much hipper late-night TV haunts to build a relevant and viable following. That is what Brian Williams has excelled at for years, even if he had to spice things up a bit (just like those advertisers promise on his news show!).
But now the blurred lines of infotainer has him in an awkward bind.
I don't know of anybody younger than 40 who gets their news from the dinnertime newscasters but I am sure there are some. I do know that those of us who remember the Walter Chronkites, and Huntleys and Brinkleys and even the Rathers and Brokaws, are not confused about Williams actions. In contrast to Williams, those anchors were not reminiscent of Ron Burgundy ... and they did not have any business reflecting anything but the facts in their reporting. They used their credibility built by accurately reporting the news yo engage in pretty serious opinion shaping. Walter Chronkite is given credit for shifting the tide of public opinion about America's involvement in Vietnam, for example.
So, when I hear my students say, they see a difference between Williams the anchor and Williams the spunky interview on Letterman ... and when I hear them say he shouldn't be conflating the news but he tells great stories ... I recognize they know the difference.
So, the blurred lines scandal of February 2015 is really reflective of a kind of sensibility that an emerging market of media consumers have developed what is somewhat nuanced and quite alright with the way we get our news today and it is not likely they are going to mislead or hoodwinked by some anchor wanting to add a hip dimension to his life ... as sorry as that may sound.