Andy Borowitz Understands The Media Better Than You Do

Think the news has been unusually serious lately? We have an alternative: Each Friday in May, Media Web will feature the observations of one of America's class wits.

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Many pundits condemned NBC News' decision to show the videos of the madman who went on a killing spree at Virginia Tech. Nobody, however, carved up the ratings-hungry television network quite as skillfully as Andy Borowitz.

Borowitz, 49, stood apart from the pack and didn't write a long-winded editorial or shout on a talk-radio or cable-news program. On May 23, he made his point when he wrote in his online vehicle, :

"Facing criticism over his network's relentless airings of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho's videos, NBC News President Steve Capus announced that the network was issuing 'stricter broadcast standards' for all future mass murderers. Speaking at NBC News headquarters in New York, Mr. Capus said that while NBC will 'continue to be the home for mass murderers' videos going forward,' homicidal maniacs should 'think twice before sending any old video into NBC News.'"

Borowitz revels in lampooning the media for its errors and excesses, putting him in an exclusive league with the people who write the Onion and Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update segment, among others.

"I target the people who abuse power," he summed up. Media executives would seem to fit into that category, unfortunately.

"The Virginia Tech coverage was shameful and over the top," he told me earlier this week. "NBC never should've aired one inch of the tape for the sake of the ratings. They're encouraging future lunatics."

The satirist writes his 275-word Borowitz Report stories very quickly. "If it takes me more than 30 minutes to write one, it probably isn't that good," he added.

While pompous politicians are red meat for a humor writer, Borowitz is also adept at poking fun at our popular-culture excesses. When "Sex and the City" went off the air, for instance, the media determined that the fans' distress was a story in itself.

Borowitz's take appeared on March 23, 2004: 'Former "Sex and the City' star Sarah Jessica Parker was placed in a time capsule today and launched into outer space, hoping to share her gifts with the populations of distant galaxies, the cable network HBO confirmed. 'I have enjoyed my time on Earth,' Ms. Parker told a crowd of adoring fans moments before being blasted into space. 'But my work here is done.' Ms. Parker was sealed into the time capsule moments after making an appearance in the 4,000th tribute to 'Sex and the City' since the show wrapped a few weeks ago."

Borowitz understands the media from the inside. He has written for Newsweek.com and the New Yorker. He also ridiculed American pop culture for a time as a regular panelist on CNN's "American Morning" program.

In addition, the versatile humorist was one of the creative forces behind "The Fresh Price of Bel-Air," and is the author of such books as "Who Moved My Soap: The CEO's Guide to Surviving in Prison." He even appeared in a Woody Allen movie.

These days, Borowitz is hosting a show at Caroline's, a popular New York comedy club, called "Next Week's News," which may eventually evolve into a TV show. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" co-star Susie Essman recently appeared, and Amy Sedaris is scheduled to join him on stage on May 24.

Criticisms

Borowitz chided the new breed of snarky writers, whose mission sometimes seems to be to embarrass, not needle, their subjects. "It's not what I do," he said. "I go for a laugh. I traffic in satire."

When Time magazine named "You" as its Person of the Year, Borowitz shuddered.

"It was a craven act of pandering," he declared. "They don't have a clue. There is still room in our culture for someone to tell us who is the Person of the Year. We don't read Time to get a newsweekly version of YouTube."

Borowitz had warm words fr "Comedy Central" stalwarts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, New York magazine writer Kurt Andersen, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

"Olbermann has found a way to take the ESPN format and package the news in an entertaining way," Borowitz said. "When you watch his show, you learn something."

He likes the BBC's no-frills style and mocks the "Ron Burgundy-like" anchors that seem to be so pervasive in the United States.

"Am I just being fooled by the BBC's accents and how they don't read readers' e-mails on the air," Borowitz mused, "or how their dignified anchors don't get their hair whipped around by the wind?"

When I asked Borowitz what he thought of Wolf Blitzer's CNN show, which features him standing in a frenzy of headlines pouring in from everywhere, he quipped: "He has 24 TV sets around him and looks like a salesman in a Best Buy showroom."

That humor is vintage Borowitz: a jab, not a kick in the shins.

MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who is your favorite satirist in the media?

FRIDAY STORY OF THE WEEK: "Better Never Than Late" by Maureen Dowd (New York Times, May 2). With her typical wit, Dowd takes George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, formerly the CIA chief and currently an aspiring best-selling author, down a notch.

THE READERS RESPOND to my columns about News Corp.'s bid to acquire Dow Jones (which owns MarketWatch): "I think it's likely the timing of his DJ bid has a lot to do with the political calendar. Given the Democrats' mistrust, contempt, fear, etc. of his right-wing beliefs, I think [Murdoch] realized that a 2009 antitrust division at Justice would kill his lust for DJ in the cradle, presuming a Dem president." Eric Engbert

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By Jon Friedman