Heh. Yeah, it true that some analogies can only be carried so far.
I've thought about this issue (of whether Jon Stewart has some news responsibility
) for a while now and I just can't seem to make a case that he does. I understand the feeling that by always saying he's a comedian, it can seem like a cop out, but let's consider the argument.
Let's say we agree that Jon Stewart, despite having no training in news media, has somehow morphed to the point of being a full-fledged media critic with all the responsibilities it entails. So if a Bill Clinton or a Tom Delay appears on his show, he's got a responsiblity to ask them tough questions. 1) What responsibility are we exactly spelling out here? That he must make fun of Republican 50% of the time and Democrats 50%? 2) Where does these new responsibilities leave his interviews? Must they be some kind of mutant combination of hard-hitting yet entertaining? Remember that 7 out of 15 interviews are with actors or entertainers who carry no political content (actual statstic based on a three-week survey conducted in March).
So are these new responsibilities of being a "hard-hitting journalist" (and again, he has no training in this area) supposed to clash with his equally valid job of being an entertainer? Granted we all have our favorite interviews Jon conducted (Henry Bonilla) but the really tough questions he asks are actually pretty few and far between. 3) Assuming Stewart does
have some sort of media critic responsibility to the public...who is the monitor of that? Does the The Daily Show need an ombudsman? Should the Columbia Journalism Review be viewing his program for fairness and accuracy? Or is this something that only takes place "in the marketplace of ideas?"
I think if you accept the idea that Stewart does
have some responsibility towards his viewers to 'ask tough questions' I'm not sure where this path leads. I feel like we've suddenly asked the ice cream man to teach math because he has some skill at it. I would like to point out that not everyone really
can be a journalist. Just looking at Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala are examples of what happens when you start thinking that everyone who works in the media is
a journalist. They conduct interviews...and yet they're not really good at it either.
And there's sort of another dimension to all this. Stewart has never said he was really any good at conducting interviews. It's not like he's
been bragging about it. Moreover he's basically said in interviews he wiffed the Kerry interview, which is the one that everyone is dogging him over. So he admitted that, yeah, he didn't do such a great job because it was neither informative or
entertaining. The real strenght of the show is actually the newsy bits, which he has help on. And if Stewart isn't the best interviewer, I think some of the value in his interviews is the guests he has on. Desmond Tutu, Richard Clark, Carol Moseley-Braun. Its really more about exposure to people that some of us would never have seen on TV in other places because we're not watching the news. So say what you will about the interviews...TDS books
the guests. If Stewart made a point of being all confrontational to his guests and only asked "hard-hitting questions" I doubt he'd get the guests that he does. So yeah, he's basically like Larry King. But that's pretty much all Stewart has signed up for. If every once in a while he hits one out of the park, good for him and
us. But its like we all expect him to suddenly be Babe Ruth...or some kind of baseball hitting guy (I don't really know sports all that well). He never said he was. What I'm hearing from people is what a lot of politicians say to reporters. "Well if your so critical why don't you run for office?" There is some kind of collective thought that Stewart can't critique the media (or politics I guess...but he does seem to be mostly a news critic) without needing to join it.
And don't get me wrong. If The Daily Show was on CNN (Not CNN International, which is weird), I would have a harder time defending his show. If his show was part of the CBS News Department I would have a hard time defending his show. But, let's face facts. It's is
on a network called Comedy Central. Jon Stewart is the Ice Cream Man (or candy seller) who's everyone said was good with numbers so they asked him to teach math. I don't doubt that Stewart has the right instincts to be a journalist...if he wanted to. But I don't see him really stepping into that role in any meaningful sense. He's aping
that role, and I think its confusing people because...well...sometimes he does do it better than those he's aping. But not all the time. He bats like .250 but people find it amazing he can hit at all.
Edited by catrina, Oct 18, 2004 @ 9:55 PM.