All the presidents’ jesters

Several weeks ago, my far hipper dad said something about “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “Y’know,” he intoned, “some co-workers watch ‘The Daily Show’ for their news.”

Having never actually seen the show, but knowing that it’s a satirical “news” program on Comedy Central (with theme music by They Might Be Giants, my favorite band), I doubted him.

Then someone told me she didn’t pay too much attention to the first presidential debate because Jon Stewart would cover the funny parts.

Although I found this shocking, “The Daily Show’s” popularity isn’t a bad thing.

Critics

Mainstream media has increasingly covered “The Daily Show.” After all, few programs attracted all 10 Democratic presidential candidates.

John Edwards, the current vice presidential nominee, actually announced his candidacy on Stewart’s program. John Kerry even snubbed other shows to sit with Stewart after the primary.

Little media commentary on Stewart is supportive. Ted Koppel remarked during the Democratic National Convention, “A lot of television viewers-more, quite frankly, than I’m comfortable with-get their news from…’The Daily Show.'”

FOX News pundit Bill O’Reilly, who disparagingly referred to Stewart’s lock on the “stoned slacker” demographic told him, “You actually have an influence on this presidential election. That is scary.”

Fake News

about Fake News

How scary could “The Daily Show” be? After all, Stewart repeatedly declares that he hosts a “fake news” show.

The problem is that his show doesn’t always seem so fake.

Stewart hammers both political parties heavily. This might create an impression that the show offers a kind of balanced commentary.

As Ted Koppel insisted, people watch “The Daily Show” “To be informed. They actually think they’re coming closer to the truth with [Stewart’s] show.”

One might correctly deduce that “The Daily Show” would value humor over balance. As Stewart explained to “60 Minutes,” “We don’t consider ourselves equal opportunity anythings…that’s the beauty of fake journalism. We don’t have to-we travel in fake ethics.”

However, it is Stewart’s claims that ring somewhat falsely, when one considers how he skewers mainstream media. By singling out examples of bad news sources and endorsing none, Stewart implies no one is doing his or her job except him-as a fake comedy journalist.

What’s better, a bad journalist or a fake one? If one accepts these as the options, Stewart isn’t doing too badly.

He’s not doing anything uniquely wrong. A lot of shows masquerade as news sources.

This is an opinion column, but if for some bizarre reason one took my columns as fact, it wouldn’t be fair to criticize me as displacing “real” news.

Delusions of Grandeur

Pundits of CNN’s “Crossfire” bristled at Stewart’s accusation they “hurt America.” Offended that a comedian would call their show a mockery of debate, CNN’s Tucker Carlson challenged Stewart’s un-journalistic softball questions to Kerry.

Stewart’s reply: “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

Oh yeah. He’s a comedian.

And it makes sense that mainstream media thinks that Stewart oversteps his bounds by criticizing them.

But even granting that Stewart exaggerates his importance, it’s hardly unusual. As the recent spats about Rocky Anderson show, there’s enough ego in media and politics to go around-even at local levels.

Comedy as an Agenda

So, Stewart can’t be blamed for how some viewers rely on his show, and he’s also not uniquely egomaniacal. But is widespread popularity of “The Daily Show” a bad thing?

I think not. As an empirical fact, people like to watch what interests them. By no means is this necessarily a good thing, but it’s a well-documented phenomena.

Even in unsexy media such as newspapers, we break up “intimidating” seas of gray with subheadings to be more appealing to readers. We use provocative pull-out quotes. If we could, I’m sure we’d give you cookies. Stewart doesn’t need cookies because he has humor.

“The Daily Show” doesn’t represent balanced or timely reporting, but it’s an improvement over other pseudo-news programs. Compared to nakedly partisan talk shows, serving a comedic agenda seems comparatively benign.

At least people are watching news. Stewart’s following might even digest more news because they enjoy it.

A University of Pennsylvania study shows that those who watch “The Daily Show” are better acquainted with campaign issues than other groups .

Only 32 percent of Americans know how many Supreme Court justices there are. If nothing else, Stewart’s naked paper dolls teach people there are nine of them.

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