Sarah Sands: Revered, powerful, serious - so thrillingly ripe for ridicule

Share
Related Topics

A criticism made of Sacha Baron Cohen is that he picks easy targets. It is not hard to portray American rednecks or Austrians in an unflattering light, although it is fiendishly difficult to create characters of comic genius, such as Ali G and Bruno.

What takes even greater nerve is to ridicule those whom you and your peers revere and look to for career promotion. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the best current affairs show on TV, recently sent a reporter to The New York Times to interview its executive editor Bill Keller.

How can I begin to describe the erudite dignity of Keller? He is more a symbol of journalistic seriousness than a mortal. I know his foxy English wife, Emma, and have tip-toed into their high-ceilinged New York apartment to gossip over a bottle of Chardonnay with her, while her husband, observed through the crack in the door, cinematically discussed global affairs on the phone.

No one reveres The New York Times more than the people who work there. I mentioned The Daily Show satirical assault to the British husband of an NYT reporter and he wondered how his wife would survive it.

Look up the clip on the internet: the Daily Show reporter introduces the audience to a quaint museum exhibit: "They are still making paper newspapers today!" He wanders through the newsroom with a woman from management, stopping to laugh out loud at a phone on the desk: "What's this? A landline! Hello, I'm a reporter from the Eighties."

He asks "Ol' man Keller, the last of a dying breed" why he has lost all the newspaper's revenues to Craigslist, and ponders with the managing editor the preposterous hilarity of printing news "24 hours after it has happened".

Keller's submits to the crass truths of the TV man with an intensive-care smile, while the managing editor's face freezes as he realises he is on the wrong end of a terrible joke.

I was both appalled and thrilled watching the film. Here was a great man, defending the high end of my own profession against a grinning jackanapes. But I also loved the spirit of Aristophanes.

It was the old and the new. If The New York Times is one of the last great newspaper ships afloat, it is surrounded by new media pirates on jet skis. These are reckless and fun, and refuse to acknowledge their fuel dependence on the big old boat.

As The New York Times mustered its response to The Daily Show, it played to its strengths. It pointed out that it had a highly resourced website of its own. It observed that it was still a prime source of journalistic material. And it lightly threatened retribution on the careers of the TV funny man and his wife.

I could never be as bold and funny as the Daily Show reporter, but I have in the past played pranks on fine establishment figures such as Andrew Neil, Piers Morgan and Max Hastings. I have hugged myself with glee, even as I heard the planes overhead lining up terrible retribution. The great have no need of humour, particularly about themselves.

The joke works only if they do have power, when mischief is an act of lese- majesty. Happily the NYT still has – at least for now. If the bloggers imagine they can dance on the graves of newspaper reporters, they should think again.

Bill Keller has flown to Iran to make sense of the story. The bloggers had the instant drama, but newspapers can tell you what it means.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Buyer / Planner

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity has ar...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity working ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Journals Manager

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The prime focus of the role is to assist...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The era of graduates from the university conveyor belt is over

Hamish McRae
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks