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The Daily Show vs. Good Journalism

Christopher Hitchens draws our attention to the role that The Daily Show now plays in mainstream news media in his new Atlantic piece.
The merry month of July 2009 had barely witnessed the spectacle of Al Franken eventually taking his seat as the junior senator from Minnesota when, immediately following the death of Walter Cronkite, Time magazine took an online poll to determine who was now “America’s most trusted newscaster.” Seven percent of those responding named Katie Couric. Nineteen percent nominated Charles Gibson. Twenty-nine percent went for Brian Williams. But the clear winner, garnering 44 percent, was Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.
I've been hearing the point from a lot of liberals recently that John Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the rest of the comedians are producing excellent pieces of news and journalism - and that measured against the benchmarks of what is supposed to be "good journalism", the Comedy Central guys are blowing everyone else out of the water.

But I'm pretty sure they don't take much pride in this accomplishment. When I saw John Oliver at the Campus Progress Conference in the same month the infamous Time poll was taken, I think he made it clear that calling the Comedy Central programs better journalism than cable or network shows is really a very very sad statement.


There is a fine line, of course, between being "good" at something and being "better than awful" - the terms are not synonymous.

Oliver's point, which I think is correct, is that we have to stop hyping the work that guys like Stewart and Colbert are doing, and we have to start getting outraged at the despicable state of television journalism. It's easy for a news junkie to write off most of the stuff that airs on CNN or Fox News as trash, but that trash is making money, not the stuff that we ought to care about.

It's a challenging situation, no doubt. Praising comedians for being better than real journalists probably will not be very helpful.


I think the irony is that one reason Jon Stewart can provide better 'journalism' is BECAUSE he's a comedian. He makes no pretenses about being 'fair and balanced' or whatever and he simply says a lot of very common-sense things that a lot of people are thinking. In his interviews with people on both the right AND the left, he politely but pointedly exposes the contradictions and hypocrisy in their politics. I'm the first to admit that he isn't a serious journalist but I like watching his interviews WAY more than others' because he doesn't let people just spout cliches and repeat illogical party lines.
Ashley said…
I think this says more about how awful the other news sources are than how great Jon Stewart is. Though, I am a big fan of his.

I'd say I listen to NPR for my real news, and watch the Daily Show to laugh at Fox News. I can't imagine Jon being my MAIN source of news, but he's so entertaining!

Personally speaking, not having cable or even TV is actually a good thing in terms of my news consumption - I think television news is mostly awful. Seriously awful.
Jen said…
Thought I might throw this into the conversation here as an observation I had, but what I find interesting about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is that I have found both individuals from the left and right enjoy watching them.

An example being my boyfriend who considers himself a conservative libertarian and I (who couldn't be more the opposite - think James Carville and Mary Matalin) can never agree on what news to watch - he refuses to watch CNN and MSNBC and I will sometimes watch Fox News just to appease him but often spend more time yelling at the television set and will not watch Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity. Yet last night fighting over watching my favorite Rachel Maddow show we found repeats of Jon and Stephen and both were laughing along.

Maybe this only applies to people within our generation, I'm not sure, because my parents also find Stephen Colbert funny and they watch only Fox News 24/7. Interestingly enough, they do not like Jon Stewart. So who knows, but something has to be said for so many people overwhelmingly find their reporting more credible. Maybe because they take shots at both? Listening to Jon Stewart, I couldnt' help but compare to the few hours I spent earlier listening to CNN and MSNBC and thought he was painfully honest about both sides. Is that what is lacking from the news? Each side sugar coats themselves to the point where they do not take shots at themselves?
Jeffrey said…
What?!! They still put the news on TV? Didn't that stop a really long time ago?

Then again, my TV stopped working some number of Fridays ago. And I still think that news arrives in a sodden mass on my driveway on rainy days.

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