James Mangan | Team Member
On February 10, Jon Stewart announced that he will be leaving The Daily Show, a program he has hosted since 1999. The Daily Show is considered the “most trusted name in news” by many, a title that Stewart himself has scoffed. The Daily Show always prioritized comedy over informed reporting, a fitting goal considering the show aired on Comedy Central.
Despite this, American pundits have always challenged the legitimacy of Stewart’s “reporting.” Stewart’s title as the most “trusted man in news” for Americans is not necessarily a reflection of how the American viewer is becoming more cynical, but rather a reflection of just how much American news organizations have failed the American public.
Partisanship plays a pivotal role in public discourse. Information in a liberal democracy can be treated as a commodity for consumers. This is especially prominent in opinion journalism and punditry. The market for information has led to 24-hour news organizations that can provide consumers with information at any time of the day. This doesn’t even come close to the amount of information that can be provided by media organizations through the internet.
However, it’s disingenuous for media organizations to state their partisan information as objective truth. Any organization may have ulterior intentions with regards to the services they provide, and media organizations are in the position to have political intentions in mind. Viewers of Fox News, one of the most popular American news outlets, recognize that many of their opinion-oriented programs have a partisan slant in favour of the Republican Party, and do not take their motto, “Fair and Balanced,” as a serious self-description. This does not mean that the viewer is receiving misinformation, but that the process in which the information is presented may be done to satisfy an ulterior motive, specifically the promotion of the Republican Party in Fox News’ case.
Information consumers trust Jon Stewart’s delivery of information more than actual news organizations, because Stewart is not disingenuous. He has made it perfectly clear that his show prioritizes entertainment and comedic value over the accuracy of the information delivered. The intention of The Daily Show is to make people laugh, not to keep them informed on a daily basis. This is lost on many of his critics, many of whom operate their own show and have become the subject of one of Stewart’s segments.
If information consumers can learn anything from Jon Stewart’s time as host of The Daily Show, it’s that the necessary divorce that needs to occur in news media is not between opinion journalism and information journalism, but rather between the reporting of information and the entertainment value of the information. News can, and should, be entertaining to some extent. However, when entertainment becomes the primary motive of a news organization, through popular opinions that support ulterior motives or through advanced technology, the quality of the information being presented may be sacrificed.
It’s not a surprise that within hours of Stewart’s announcement, the video of his guest appearance on “Crossfire” made its rounds through the internet. “Crossfire” was a political fever dream on CNN in which politicians and other political voices were asked blatantly partisan questions in order to craft an uncomfortable scenario for the guests. Despite appearing on a 24-hour news channel, “Crossfire” appeared to prioritize entertainment value rather than informed debate, a statement proven correct by Stewart’s invitation to the show. Rather than promoting his book, Stewart lamented the show and its two hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, for “hurting America” by distorting appropriate public discourse and reverting it to dribble. Three months after the interview, “Crossfire” was cancelled.
Jon Stewart has not revealed any future plans for when he leaves The Daily Show, but has commented that it may be nice to see his family once in a while. Stewart has left his legacy through a trail of correspondents who have moved on to greater projects. Former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver received his own political program on HBO, and Stephen Colbert, host of Daily Show spinoff The Colbert Report, was accepted to take over for David Letterman on The Late Show. Jon Stewart will be long remembered for his willingness to point out the hypocritical in American journalism.