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: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border