Time Magazine held a poll on their website. The question was, “Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America’s most trusted newscaster?”
The options were Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson, Jon Stewart, and Brian Williams. Jon Stewart won by a landslide.
Okay, granted. The poll is stupid. Jon Stewart isn’t technically in competition with the other mainstream networks. The other networks are likely to cannibalize each other’s votes and push Stewart ahead. Also, it’s an online poll and therefore skewed to the Daily Show’s younger audience, in contrast to the 60-year-old median audiences of the mainstream networks’ Nightly News shows.
Still, it’s a bit frightening to be reminded that there are people who regard Jon Stewart as the King of the News. The biggest problem with The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report for that matter, is that they serve as news for people who don’t like news. That’s not an exaggeration is it? The fact that the shows are slanted towards the liberal side is not in itself problematic. The problem is that people watch the shows and take their political stance with an eye to fashion, not good policy. Colbert’s entire show is dedicated to the stigmatization of conservatism. A thinking person can appreciate Colbert’s humor and still be independent of the stigma. Unfortunately, non-thinking college students eager to sit at the political equivalent of the “cool kids table” advance the stigma without analyzing the issues. By acting like the counterpoints are too ridiculous to consider, people never consider the counterpoints.
Stewart’s show is particularly troublesome, not because it’s an irreverent editorial show. It’s troublesome because people treat it with authority. Jon Stewart has managed to import middle-school popularity dynamics into a discussion of national politics. He sometimes dismisses an entire issue by merely rolling his eyes. The audience guffaws and then moves on without having to think. Again, if you can pour contempt on an opposing viewpoint, you don’t have to refute it. To see a sycophantic audience in action, take a look at this interview of Jonah Goldberg. Stewart says in the interview, both that he doesn’t understand what Jonah talks about, and that Jonah is misrepresenting progressive causes. The audience cheers for both sentiments–Jon Stewart doesn’t understand (cue audience), and yet Stewart does and Jonah doesn’t (cue audience). Dismissal is an effective technique for people who desire an approved stance rather than an informed stance. What’s more annoying is that the Daily Show viewers, who have never considered the issues, are confident in their criticism or praise of an idea.
Though Jon Stewart enjoys the benefits of his authority, he denies its legitimacy. He’s sort of like Jerry Springer in that he shrugs his shoulders and says, my show’s ridiculous. It’s a disarming way to distance himself from his show’s haughty proclamations. He used to say that he came on after a show where puppets made crank calls. The inference was that anyone who takes his show seriously need not themselves be taken seriously. Yet he seems equivalent to a man who “satirically” sits on a street corner with a cup, but still expects money. After the hit piece Stewart ran on CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Stewart’s “I don’t take myself too seriously” shrug, seems a little less convincing.
In the style-over-substance-age of television politics, someone as likeable as Jon Stewart is here to stay. So I did this picture of him.