The Role and Impact of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Taking Satire Seriously On A "Daily Show" Basis

By Matthew E. Popkin
2012, Vol. 4 No. 09 | pg. 2/12 |

In a separate clip, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer demonstrates an additional example of the lack of substance in news coverage and the poor determinations of what is considered newsworthy: “On June 6, [2007,] Stewart aired clips of Wolf Blitzer preparing for one of the Republican debates. Here, Blitzer took his viewers on a trip of “what you can expect.” He tells the audience how the candidates will enter the stage and that there was water available for them.”10 It is hard to imagine that any viewer is actually interested in the details mentioned by Blitzer, and this is not so much of a criticism of Blitzer as it is the desire to fill every minute with “news.” More relevant items would be, for instance, potential topics of contention between the various candidates or the effects of potential outcomes of the debate.

Stewart criticizes all three of the major news networks regarding the Duke rape allegations, suggesting that news programs give more consideration to their coverage of more sensitive topics. The Daily Show achieves this through direct commentary, an appropriate use of satire, and by exemplifying its own considerate approach to the subject.

Political Experts

In addition to how the news networks present the news, it is crucial to know who presents the news, or more importantly, who is commentating on the news and injecting opinions into the discussion:11

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Who The F@#k Is That Guy - Political Experts

First of all, building off of the subject of the amount of filler material needed for the 24-hour news cycle to function, the video montage of all the different political analysts that the major networks acquire demonstrates the extraordinary number of people who comment on politics required for each of the media organizations. The crux of the segment implies that the majority of those who discuss political strategies or issues on the air are not qualified to make judgments that can pass as expert testimony.

One of the powers of the major news networks is that they can publicly legitimize or delegitimize a person, topic, or point of view. Because of this power, Stewart suggests that the networks should be more selective about whom they have on their shows, and, in turn, claim as experts: “You can trust these folks, because the news networks carefully vet each and every one of their expert analysts – whether they be this guy, who worked for Fred Thompson’s failed presidential campaign, or this guy, who helped Howard Dean lose, or these failed strategists from the Edwards, Romney, and Huckabee campaigns.”12 As a result, it is essential to consider both experience and context. In the aforementioned quote, all of the analysts were offering their advice as to how the candidates still in the running for president should operate, even though their prior advice did not allow their own candidate to succeed. Though this may not be entirely fair to the particular strategists, as they may often be successful strategists, presenting these failed strategists as experts is simply inaccurate, especially when the campaign they are offering advice about clearly surpassed their own campaign strategy.

The broader question, though, is whether you can trust those whom the media portray as experts. Stewart suggests that one should be skeptical of “experts” and that the news networks should do their best to maintain quality over quantity. As demonstrated by the “crazy person” testimony, odd commentary and false statements, when portrayed as legitimate ideas from a seemingly reliable source, may mislead and misinform people, diminishing the quality of public discourse.

CNN Critique

Jon Stewart regularly criticizes the cable news networks. In addition to the more broad media critique that Stewart offers, as mentioned in the previous sections, the individual networks themselves become victims of The Daily Show’s satirical commentary and often more serious criticism. The three major networks – CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News – are all featured from time to time on The Daily Show. Any regular viewer of The Daily Show will be the first to admit that the criticism is not equal in any way, Fox News being given the most “attention.” This disparity is not because of the liberal slant of Stewart’s program, but more so because of the absurdity of the content on Fox News, as will be demonstrated later.

Despite having a liberal slant, The Daily Show does not exempt CNN and MSNBC from criticism. CNN, a relatively moderate though left-leaning news organization, has taken much heat from Stewart both in the past and present. The Daily Show often criticizes CNN for its excessive use of technology and the lack of substantive improvement that accompanies it.13 Referring to CNN’s over-the-top electronic displays and unnecessary incorporation of Twitter comments into the analysis of President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union speech, Stewart mocks, “I’ve never seen a situation where more information helped me understand less.”14 Stewart received national attention in 2004 for his harsh criticism of CNN’s program Crossfire while being interviewed live on the show itself. The Crossfire incident will be discussed in much more context and detail later on in the paper. The Crossfire critique and other examples of focused analysis of CNN strongly affirm that Stewart is more interested in reforming the media than promoting a particular political agenda.

The following video is the epitome of criticism of CNN offered by The Daily Show:15

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: CNN Leaves It There

This video clip illustrates the interaction that the media, in this case CNN, have with congressional representatives, political correspondents, and other political figures. In order to gain information to report on, the media must interview people, however, blindly accepting the ‘facts’ that one has been given is not even close to sufficient. In CNN’s case, its anchors not only accepted the information without challenging ridiculous and extreme statements but also cut off debate before there had been any opportunity to counter or resolve the discussion, often in a haphazard fashion. Stewart initially mocks CNN for fact-checking a Saturday Night Live sketch, commenting on both the ridiculousness of it and the waste of valuable time. Stewart then continues more generally, albeit sarcastically: “Fact checking is the function of news. That is the public service they provide. It’s one of the reasons why the health care debate has been so fruitful.”16 Although recognizing the crucial function the media have investigating details, Stewart insinuates that there has been a lack of fact-checking in the health care debate, which, as Stewart indicates, is more important to public debate and politics than a late-night comedy sketch. In instances of actual questionable material, as demonstrated with Senators Jon Kyl and Orrin Hatch, CNN did not dispute the numbers or statements, and The Daily Show blatantly calls out CNN. When the Congressional Budget Office’s report on Kyl’s exact claims was released, CNN did not repudiate Kyl’s greatly exaggerated numbers.

In addition, responding to Tony Perkins’ statistical irregularities about uninsured Americans, Stewart mocks as follows:

“First things first, according to the New York Times, America now has 307 million people, not 330 million people. So you are only off by a factor of – Australia. Second, with that explanation, he went from 30 million uninsured, down to, you know, the hard-core number - 5 or 10 million. Well, that’s pretty close, 5 or 10, it’s only double. You know it’s interesting because I weigh between 150 and 300 pounds. Now that’s normal for a man who’s 6 to 12 feet tall.”17

Again, though, CNN anchor Tony Harris fails to address the discrepancy in numbers, and in this case, Perkins’ argument is based almost exclusively on the numbers.

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