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. 3/12 |

Stewart further emphasizes the main idea of the segment through the show’s video montage of examples of CNN “leaving it there,” demonstrating that CNN’s approach conveys a passive acceptance of what is being stated or shows that CNN is simply not paying attention to the substance of the statement. Stewart’s point is that CNN was so adept at fact-checking an SNL sketch, but does not fact-check or even correct statements made by various political experts or congressional representatives. The latter statements are real and have implications on policy and politics and CNN could serve a much more valuable function than fact-checking a comedy skit or cutting off hyperbolic rhetoric to go to the latest YouTube video. The segment concludes with correspondents Aasif Mandvi and John Oliver mocking CNN’s handling of such partisan and outrageous debates. Although risqué, the essence of the clip is strongly emphasized by the fact that Stewart does not challenge or address their absurd claims in mockery of CNN.

This specific attack on CNN is a result of the absurdity of the statements made by politicians as well as the lack of questioning and probing by CNN. Stewart, thus, calls out both the media and their interviewees for not being accurate in their positions. Moreover, even though CNN is typically considered a moderate to liberal news organization, Stewart, as is evident in the video segment, harshly criticizes CNN’s ability to adequately perform its most essential functions.

MSNBC Critique

MSNBC is usually considered the most liberal of the three major news networks. In general, Stewart often mocks the network for not being the liberal counterweight to Fox News that it strives to be. The Daily Show compares MSNBC’s style to Fox News’ style – and in that regard, is quite complimentary of Fox News:18

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: MSNBC Left Behind

First, Stewart mocks the network’s inability to effectively convey its theme and new perspective. He notes that if the President of MSNBC had to come on and explain why they chose the phrase “Lean Forward,” then it obviously is not a good choice, adding that the network’s marketing is “lame” in comparison to Fox News’ marketing. Stewart demonstrates via video montage, not only the contradiction that occurs between the goal of leaning forward and the MSNBC anchors and commentators, but also the hyperbolic rhetoric that is expressed as well indicating MSNBC’s need for improvement of both the message and method.

MSNBC also has taken heat from The Daily Show with regard to its most prominent political commentators. Keith Olbermann, host of the show Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and Chris Matthews, host of Hardball with Chris Matthews, are both often criticized for what Stewart considers to be their hyperbolic and, at times, ridiculous statements. For example, Olbermann is mocked for calling Senatorial candidate Scott Brown an “irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, tea bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees” and then apologizing for leaving out the word “sexist.”19 Matthews is mocked for describing President Obama during the State of the Union speech as being “post-racial.”20 Stewart asserts that this type of behavior and commentary is unwarranted and could instead be replaced by more productive discourse – even if it is on the same topic. By bringing attention to what he considers to be inadequate commentary, Stewart hopes that MSNBC will come to its senses.

Fox News Critique

The last and most heavily criticized of the three major news networks is Fox News. Fox News is also the most conservative of the three networks, which is in obvious contrast to The Daily Show’s liberal leanings. However, looking beyond the initial partisan lines, The Daily Show’s main grievance with Fox News is that it presents itself as a network that is not biased, despite it being remarkably conservative. Stewart has little problem with the fact that Fox is a conservative network. His major qualm with the network is that it is a “terrible disingenuous news organization,” not even closely living up to their advertised slogan of “Fair and Balanced.”21 By pointing out the network’s inconsistencies in its claims and its abundant hypocrisy, Stewart alerts viewers (at least of The Daily Show) to the intriguing claims that the Fox News network makes.

This first video segment serves both as an introduction to the Fox News network and as an introduction to Stewart’s commentary on the network:22

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: For Fox Sake

Stewart begins by displaying statements indicating the White House’s “war on Fox News,” which then escalates Fox correspondents’ comparisons to censorship and the Cold War underground media. He shows the contradiction of Cal Thomas criticizing the Bush administration in 2008 for taking so long to criticize MSNBC after Thomas accuses the Obama administration for trying to take on Fox News. While one of The Daily Show’s best weapons is showing clear hypocrisy, the essence of this video segment is the description of Fox News by its Vice President. Stewart explains, “According to Fox, their weekday news programming… runs from 9am to 4pm and from 6pm to 8pm, for a total of nine newsy hours a day.” He then explains the implications of Fox’s statement:

“The three hours that you spend in the morning with Fox and Friends – not news. Your four o’clock to five o’clock… Neil Cavuto break – not news. The five o’clock to six o’clock emotional whirlwind national group therapy session that is Glenn Beck… not even close to news. O’Reilly, Hannity, Van Susteren – not news. This is according to Fox News. Those people, the ones featured in the promos about how fair and balanced Fox News is, are not news. These people, otherwise known as, the only people you ever think of when you think about Fox News, are not news. They’re Fox ‘opinutainment.’ Apparently, Fox News are these folks, or as they’re known, who the f*** are these folks? That’s Fox News.”23

In other words, the shows and anchors defining the Fox network are not considered news according to the Fox network. However, they are the main commentators who are commonly associated with the network. The systemic flaw, though, occurs with the news portion of the show, where the news anchors either make blatantly obvious opinionated claims (similar to those of the non-news anchors) or reference the “opinutainment” commentators as a source for their claims. The Daily Show brings out this technique with the example of an elementary school’s song acknowledging President Obama. As evident in the video segment, commentators such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity worry that the school’s song, which was approved in advance by the children’s parents, was an attempt at indoctrination on the same level as Maoist China or Nazi Germany. The news correspondents then use those statements to claim that “alleged indoctrination of children” is taking place. Stewart not only calls out Fox News for not living up to its own slogan of fair and balanced, but he also implies that these actions are intentional on the part of the individual anchors and the network as a whole. Moreover, the potential for misinforming viewers or distorting the facts or controversies paves the way for irrational discourse, creating more of a partisan divide.

The lack of the clear divide between the news and the opinion commentators is further stressed in this next segment:24

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Anchor Management

Stewart demonstrates the relatively small differences between the statements of Megyn Kelly, the anchor of a program during the news hours, and the statements made by the opinion commentators during the non-news hours. The manner in which Kelly questions the sole interviewee who is in favor of health care reform also denotes a clear bias: “Help me understand, why, when… you have seventy-three percent of the American people saying scrap this bill, why the democrats don’t come out and say, you know what, we hear you, we’re going to scrap it.”25 Stewart appropriately mocks her approach by sarcastically inquiring “I simply would like to know, as an honest and balanced newsperson, when you are going to pull your Stalinist head out of your Leninist ass and listen to real Americans – cause we’re a news show and couldn’t find one person who thought this bill should be scrapped.”26

Stewart additionally addresses the lack of fairness and balance. Kelly has numerous people who speak out against the health care bill, from retirement community members to a doctor, yet does not present the other side of the issue. Since Kelly’s program is part of the supposed news time on the Fox network, and thus should inform viewers about a given issue, Stewart inquires as to the balance presented:

“Now you at home might be thinking, for balance, why didn’t the news organization interview a wider range of people at the retirement home, like the minimum wage custodian, or the part time receptionist with three kids, or anyone at the home who doesn’t already have the benefit of socialized Medicare.”27

Not only does Stewart point out ways to present the other side of the issue; he also shows the intrinsic hypocrisy in the fact that Medicare, a government-run and popular form of health care for the elderly, has been provided to the very senior citizens who spoke out in opposition. Of course, this does not suggest that those who have socialized medicine already must be in favor of health care reform, but it does suggest an inconsistency and potential bias in Kelly’s citizenry sample.

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