Before I went to law school, I was a newswoman. Print media. Since then, I’ve been kind of a news fanatic. I’d devour the Miami Herald or the Cleveland Plain Dealer or a NYT, if I could get my hands on one. The Today Show was a must, and occasionally the evening news, too. The advent of CNN, heaven. Ditto the Weather Channel.
In the last four or five years, though, I get my fix satisfied by online sources. I check breaking news on CNN.com multiple times a day. Same with TWC. I read a number of blogs and online magazines, rather than anything in print.
News? I get my news from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. And today, I find the survey that proves I’m not the only one, as reported in the Huffington Post. Time magazine’s survey showed that, post-Cronkite, put up against the big networks’ news anchors, Stewart was selected by more people as the most trusted newscaster in America.
I’m sure Jon Stewart is laughing himself silly. He’s the first to point out his is a “fake news” show, especially when politicians fall over themselves to announce campaigns on his show, and so on. He has no pretensions that he’s even in competition with the networks. While he has a liberal bias, he’s generous poking fun at all sides, and no subject seems to be off limits.
Maybe that’s why we find him so appealing. As someone who’s done hundreds of interviews, I think he has an amazing interview style. He has no pretensions about the news, either, or the stature of his guests (and he gets some incredible people, considering it’s supposed to be “just” a comedy show). He asks the questions news anchors won’t ask. He often demands that his guests take a hard look at themselves as well as their products, and he asks for real commentary in relation to what’s happening in the world.
In the comments to the Huffington Post story, there is assorted discourse, but one commenter points out that to get the jokes on this program, one needs to be well-informed and well-read. The expectation of audience preparation is much more than what we find on the 24-hour news machines, where talking heads keep handing out pap for the masses. Stewart wants us to think, and encourages alternative opinions to those of TPTB.
Where have we seen this function before? Ah, yes, in the court jesters of old. Timothy Johnson explains the court jester thus:
The Court Jester was the one who could challenge traditional, conventional wisdom by doing one thing: making fun of it. He might highlight the seemingly trivial elements of an idea, or he might downplay what everyone else was ooo-ing and ah-ing over. He might parody the players connected with an idea so the king could see the idea in a new light. He might reverse everything – logistically, chronologically, philosophically – allowing those in his audience to see it from different angles. Regardless of how he accomplished it, the Court Jester was the one person whose perspective could rise above the knowledge of the King’s advisors (translated: yes men).
Granted, the most likely consequence to Stewart’s pushing the envelope is a greater Nielsen share rather than a beheading. But in this age, it seems like regular news networks have become much less interested in crucial issues that will have real impact on our lives (really? a month of undying Michael Jackson coverage, day and night, when environmental and global concerns are shoved to the rear?). They’re competing for ratings, trying to win popularity contests with more and more strident headlines, snagging the entertainment value of the day.
Stewart points this out himself on the program of July 20, where he mocks some requests from network news people who wanted to get Hot-Topic flavor of the month South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford on their shows. But with all that’s going on in the world, is that really the news we want to see? Is that even news any more?
Not me. I’ll stick with Jon. Less entertainment, more issues I care about. And maybe just a little radical thinking. Vive le difference!