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. 4/12 |

Lastly, this video clip concludes by demonstrating obvious hypocrisy. Kelly, who bases many of her statements on the current poll numbers, is shown contradicting her own use of polls by claiming two years prior that one “[cannot] trust the polls.”28 One of the most effective techniques that Stewart uses showing video clips of a person uttering a completely contradictory statements. This technique is used in this case and in a myriad of others. Stewart heavily criticizes Kelly’s selective use and justification of the poll numbers in the instance when they can be used to her advantage.

Another one of Stewart’s significant criticisms of Fox News has been its disingenuousness. Stewart calls attention to the morning show Fox and Friends when it is mocking the climate science scandal of 2009. The most absurd part is not its mockery of the situation, but the poll that Fox and Friends cites and discusses at length. Asking people whether they believe researchers falsified their data, the poll reports that 59% say it is very likely, 35% say it is somewhat likely, and 26% say not very likely.29 Stewart ridicules: “So in attacking scientists for falsifying data to support their theories on global warming, you’ve cited a poll that adds up to 120%.”30 Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the three commentators on Fox and Friends continue discussing the findings while ignoring the mathematical impossibility present.

Further commenting about the network’s disingenuous approach, Stewart mocks Gretchen Carlson for not knowing what a czar is. The only explanation that Stewart believes is likely is that Carlson is “dumbing [herself] down to connect with an audience that views intellect as an elitist flaw.”31 To drive home his point, Stewart Googles Carlson and learns that she was high school valedictorian, went to Stanford and Oxford, and plays classical violin, yet seems grossly ignorant on the morning show. By alerting people to this inconsistency and absurdity on the network, Stewart seeks to reduce the amount of irrationality that is presented to viewers. If there is no accountability, there can be no improvement of quality, and viewers of Fox News or any other network that uses similar strategies will be misinformed or misled.

General Media Conclusion & Misleading Coverage

Lastly, The Daily Show uses video techniques to point out blatant falsifications and clear errors presented as news or legitimate commentary:32

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck's Protest Footage

In this clip, The Daily Show calls attention to the fact that Hannity’s program uses footage from a rally from a different time to portray the present rally as a larger and more popular event. Assuming that the decision to use different footage was intentional, especially given the fact that there was virtually a flawless transition between the clips, it is shocking that this kind of deceit would be utilized. According to Stewart, the Fox News program gives no indication that different footage was used. One might now question what difference The Daily Show’s catch would make, since only The Daily Show audience would be conscious of it. However, the following night, Hannity, on his own program on Fox News, acknowledges The Daily Show and apologizes for using two different clips, thus informing his own viewers of the erroneous footage as well.33

In a video segment on September 9, 2010, The Daily Show, while making a general mockery of MSNBC and Fox News, makes another valuable catch. Stewart displays a clip from Hannity’s program that truncates President Obama’s speech in mid-thought.

Hannity: “Now the President did have a rare moment of honesty during his speech and I hope viewers around the country are watching this.”

Obama: “Taxes are scheduled to go up substantially next year, for everybody.”

Hannity: “Alright, that’s right. I know the anointed one will make sure that that happens.”

Stewart responds, “Wow. I can’t believe that the President of the United States would just blurt out everybody’s taxes are going to go up substantially. Probably because he wouldn’t do that.” Stewart then shows Obama’s full statement, which clearly conveys a dramatically different meaning:

Obama: “Under the tax plan past by the last administration, taxes are scheduled to go up substantially next year, for everybody. By the way, this was by design.”

Stewart then sarcastically comments:

“Starting clips later and cutting them off before the speaker can finish the thought’s full construction can be a useful tool in helping your audience understand what you want them to think. It’s a fun and easy way to make people you disagree with say things that make them unelectable.”34

Based on Hannity’s editing and his comments that follow, it is evident that the clip was intended to be cut off, illustrating a effort to mislead viewers. Again, though, Stewart’s critique is not very helpful if only The Daily Show audience is exposed to it. However, in this case, Howard Kurtz from CNN’s Reliable Sources program makes a similar point three days later, acknowledging The Daily Show for catching Hannity’s misrepresentation.35

Both the protest footage and the truncation distort the actual event and reporting, and The Daily Show exposes this distortion. It is likely that Stewart is not the only one to make these catches, though, in many cases, he may very well be. The Daily Show team has the luxury of relatively little airtime to fill, and, thus, has the ability to search for older video clips and more thoroughly analyze current sources. It is in this respect that The Daily Show serves its most effective function. By commenting, critiquing, chastising, and calling out the main news networks for their blunders, poor handling, irrationality, hypocrisy, and dishonesty, Stewart holds accountable those who are supposed to be holding accountable the political figures and leaders. If not for The Daily Show, it is probable that many of these erroneous, ridiculous, or purposefully distorted claims would go unacknowledged. These types of errors, when left unquestioned, do a disservice to the public. The very fact that television is a one-way media form, one in which the viewer cannot interact with the producer, emphasizes the importance, if not the need, for programs like The Daily Show, which create a dialogue where none exists.

The major news networks report on and criticize political figures and other news commentators on a regular basis. However, The Daily Show, being a satirical political commentary program on the network of Comedy Central, does not have the same level of obligation and responsibility as professional journalists to inform and report, and thus it is able to create its own position. Stewart often claims that the news networks cannot criticize him for not being “fair and balanced” or for being equally tough on his guests because that is not what Stewart claims to be or do.36 Stewart and The Daily Show team as a whole do not seek to fit into any existing program genre and have established the show as a vital mode of satirical critique and media analysis. Although one may contend that The Daily Show’s impact is limited by its late-night television audience, and thus has little impact on the political and media process, the show attracts many viewers during the daytime re-runs and online, and the show’s most astute criticisms have received significant attention by the press and other political and media commentators. Two of the most prominent instances of this attention are highlighted in the following part.

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