On his blog today, Dilbert creator Scott Adams wonders why people get so bent out of shape about the likes of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

During the peak ratings years of The Jerry Springer Show — an alleged reality show — a fight would break out among the guests during almost every episode. It seemed obvious to me that these fights were orchestrated by the producers. What are the odds that a fight would break out during every episode and yet no one would ever get hurt or arrested?

The surprising thing is that everyone I talked to about the show during its glory years believed the fighting was genuine and spontaneous. I found that level of gullibility to be mind boggling.

All of this gets me to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Both of them have been in the news a lot for their outspoken and controversial views. And once again, people don’t seem to understand that their jobs are entertainment, nothing more.

Talk show hosts have no legal or ethical obligation to do anything but entertain. And judging by their successes, Limbaugh and Beck are brilliant at their jobs. I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.

I agree in principle with Adams: I highly doubt that these guys actually believe the shit they say, they’re doing it for ratings. The reason I get so frustrated with them is because they’re perceived as news men. Beck is actually employed by a (sort of) news organization: Fox News.

When stupid people watched Jerry Springer they might have thought the fighting was real, but it was limited to a one-hour show that was clearly nothing but cheap entertainment. When Limbaugh or Beck spray their views into the entertainmentsphere (as Adams puts it) with the intention of generating outrage and pandering to the lowest common denominator, some people might see through it and register it as showmanship. But many, especially because of the context in which entertainers like this operate (news radio, cable news) will treat it as fact.

Because my perception of Beck and Limbaugh is that they’re faking it, I don’t think they’re bad people. They probably think they’re no more dishonest than any other actor playing a part for money. I’m also long past the point of expecting much from the general TV or radio audience.

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” –H.L. Mencken

My real contempt is for the media companies who try to dress this tripe up as news, and still have the nerve to tout themselves as pillars of journalism. “24 hour cable news” is an oxymoron. They’re never-ending entertainment and “entertainment news” shows (check out Alisa Miller’s excellent talk at TED last year about the American-centricness and entertainment focus of American news) which register on the seriousness scale somewhere between eTalk Now and USA Today.

If you watch the Daily Show (I’d include a clip here but the cross-border copyright issues with Comedy Central vs. the Comedy Network are beyond retarded) then you’ve probably noticed that in recent months Jon Stewart has unleashed a lot of venom at the news networks. He attacks Fox for their ridiculous slant and CNN for their glaring incompetence. He took Jim Cramer to task for being to finance what Ann Coulter is to political commentary, and doesn’t spare the whip for MSNBC when they actually do something noticeable. Crossfire — which seems oddly quaint now — irked him enough that he effectively embarrassed CNN into killing it. Here’s hoping he can manage a few more shows while he’s at it.

Interesting that an entertainer fronting an admittedly, proudly fake news show would be the one to most effectively skewer the bumblings and lies of the so-called “real” news shows.

Venn mega

Some people understand something better when it’s explained to them in words. Personally, I prefer to see a picture. More specifically, I like charts.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert) wrote about this topic yesterday, prompted by a bit he saw on Bill Maher’s show.

The other night on Bill Maher’s show he held up a pie chart showing the percentage of U.S. corporations now controlled by the government. It was a tiny slice, more of a line than a wedge. Bill’s point is that we’re not on the verge of becoming socialists. That was an interesting graphic and very powerful for his argument.

What prompted me to write this was an email GB sent me today, a Venn diagram in Lifehacker I’d seen a few days ago and forgotten to star in Google reader (and thus forgot where I’d seen it):

The Venn diagram may be my favourite chart type. My favourite Indexed cartoons are Venn diagrams…

…and one of my favourite tshirts is this one from Diesel Sweeties:

Of course, charts of any flavour can do a good job of conveying lots of information in a tiny package. Last week I wrote a whole blog post about three good charts. Two weeks ago I made my own chart to illustrate the ideal conditions for emptying my PVR. I subscribe to feeds like The Economist’s daily chart and Flowing Data ’cause there’s always something interesting in there.

I very nearly drew a chart to explain how useful charts can be, but that seemed redundant. And overly geeky.