It has been months now since Fox News' PR machine issued one of its trademark slams of a critic, and we, for one, are happy that they have come off their summer vacations and gone back to work. The target this time: Jon Stewart, darling funnyman of the liberal elite. Surprise! The best part about this new spat: the person who comes off looking worst of all is not Stewart, nor Fox's flack, but rather the Washington Post's vacuous conventional media wisdom purveyor Howie Kurtz. A fight to admire, and a symptom of increased media fragmentation and public alienation! A full recap: The Democratic convention is such a news-bereft wasteland that Stewart was apparently giving a press conference, consisting of him riffing to a roomful of eager reporters. During the course of this, he said that Fox News' "Fair and Balanced" slogan is "the biggest 'fuck you' to people with brains that I've ever seen in my life" and that Chris Wallace is the network's only legit anchor, and that Fox is biased against Obama. Stop the fucking presses, right? But Howie Kurtz, trooper that he is, put in a call to Fox, and came back with this paragraph for his story:

A Fox News spokesman replied that "Jon's clearly out of touch," citing a Pew study showing the network has the most balanced audience in cable news, 39 percent Repubicans and 33 percent Democrats. "But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon as evidenced by the crash and burn ratings of this year's Oscars telecast."

And we must say, this is completely fair play by Fox! Stewart attacked them professionally; they responded by attacking him professionally; both parties get their say, and the affair doesn't get too dirty. Stewart is perfectly willing and able to respond to Fox's slams, unlike the beat reporters they've gone after in the past. And for connoisseurs of Fox PR's historic public attacks on various media characters, the statement is a beauty-it follows the trademark Fox formula, sliding in an attack on the messenger with a smile. The asshole here is Kurtz himself, who, as Romenesko pointed out, ran an anonymous attack quote from Fox, in direct violation of the Post's own rules on anonymous quotes. Funny, though: Stewart actually complimented Fox. Perhaps when they responded, they didn't get this full quote?

"I think Fox does the best job because probably because they have an idea what they're doing. Because they have an editorial perspective, they're able to focus it more. So it's more cohesive and it makes more sense you understand what they're doing. They're putting it through a filter."

Everyone is fighting with each other! The idea that the media is able to stand apart from a larger group called the "audience" and do its job is collapsing. Fox is a media outlet, Stewart is a media guy, and both are sniping at each other-becoming the story themselves-rather than speaking to their own audiences directly (not that we mind, in this case). Even worse, the audience of regular people who are supposed to be the media's consumers have now decided that they are the media itself. As David Carr writes from the convention:

Each time there was a reporting stop - at a small McCain counterdemonstration, a Hillary counterdemonstration, or in the bloggers' tent - the people formerly known as the audience refused to behave like one. They brandished video cams, iPhones and recorders, doing their own documentation of what was under way.

Somebody has to be the audience. Soon, like slam poetry night at a cafe full of nothing but slam poets, we'll all stop listening because we're too busy waiting our turn to talk.