Jon Stewart: Still The Most Trusted Newscaster in America
Just last Friday we lost the most trusted man in America. This week we've anointed a fake journalist his replacement. Or so Time magazine would have us believe.
To be fair, Brian Williams came in second place in the Time poll, but my Newhouse School and Cal State Fullerton students don't gush about Brian Williams and NBC Nightly News as they do about Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.
Time's poll is just reconstituted news. It's so 2004. Jon Stewart has been in this category of a most trusted newscaster for years. He didn't catapult to the top in the post-Cronkite era.
It was Stewart's appearance on CNN's Crossfire with Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson on Friday, October 15, 2004 that cemented his reputation as the only honest broker about what was happening to the real news. Stewart had always maintained that Comedy Central's The Daily Show was shtick journalism. After all, fake puppets making crank calls preceded the program at the time.
Crank Yankers, like Crossfire, would later be cancelled. I'm sadder about the demise of the former. Much more creativity there.
On that October day in 2004 Jon Stewart called on Begala (Democratic hack on the left) and Carlson (Republican hack on the right) to move away from their partisan bickering and become more responsible news people. He told Begala and Carlson that they were "hurting America" for continuing to serve the American people partisan hackery porridge for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Just a few weeks before Election 2004 and Bush's reelection to a second term, Stewart called on the so-called real news networks to take their jobs more seriously. Instead of blowing hot air at each other, Stewart asked why Crossfire didn't do real debate. Calling Crossfire a debate show, he quipped, is like "saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition."
Stewart was both funny and serious, which seemed to catch his hosts, particularly Carlson, off guard. It made for astounding live television. Stewart fired a shot across the bow of serious news. Unless the major cable and network news broadcasters did their jobs better, the American people would move away from CNN to shows like his that didn't hold pretenses about being anything but entertainment delivery systems for the news-savvy.
Most memorably in the eyes of many, Stewart called Tucker Carlson a "dick" or as some newspapers reported a [male pride] in response to Carlson's saying that Stewart wasn't as funny in person as he was on Comedy Central.
Stewart said what so many Americans were thinking but were in no position to say. No, I don't mean the "dick" comment. It took America's most prominent shtick journalist to tell pseudo journalists to stop using false advertising labels about what it is they were doing. "You are helping the corporations and the politicians," he said, with all the partisan hacks screaming at each other instead of monitoring political power and corporate corruption.
Stewart's name-calling to CNN's "Richie Rich" bowtie newsman Carlson was an instant Internet video sensation, not on YouTube (it came about in February 2005) but on iFilm. It made many of us who teach media classes stop and think about what journalism is and who is a journalist.
Stewart, a William and Mary graduate, is quick to plead that he's not a trained "serious news" journalist, but it really doesn't matter. He's more gifted at delivering the pulse of the political and entertainment culture than anyone else on TV today. That is a strong negative if you are politically conservative. He's a very transparent liberal with a crack writing team. Or did I mean crank?
Here's the Crossfire video mentioned above:
I think it's interesting that they used to do this show in front of a live audience.
And here's his first appearance on The Daily Show after he did that episode of Crossfire: