09 May 2008

Most admired journalists

Maybe a contradiction in terms, but #4 on the list was Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. Journalism.org and the Pew Research Center take on the interesting question, "Is Jon Stewart a Journalist?" and comes up with an interesting answer: yes.

[TDS] draws on the news events of the day but picks selectively among them—heavily emphasizing national politics and ignoring other news events entirely. [...] The program also makes heavy use of news footage, often in a documentary way that employs archival video to show contrast and contradiction, even if the purpose is satirical rather than reportorial. At other times, the show also blends facts and fantasy in a way that no news program hopefully ever would. In addition, The Daily Show not only assumes, but even requires, previous and significant knowledge of the news on the part of viewers if they want to get the joke. [...] at times, The Daily Show aims at more than comedy. In its choice of topics, its use of news footage to deconstruct the manipulations by public figures and its tendency toward pointed satire over playing just for laughs, The Daily Show performs a function that is close to journalistic in nature—getting people to think critically about the public square.

As an example of why rational observers conclude TDS is something of a legitimate journalistic enterprise, I offer you this interview with Republican nominee John McCain:

I cannot recall any "news show" interview where McCain was asked point-blank how he intended to distance himself from the most unpopular president ever. He called him on the Hamas thing, too. Was it a soft-ball interview? Maybe a little; it was funny, too. But when you see Stewart's serious take on the important issues, expertly interweaved with light humor, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that this is a program which is genuinely interested in public discourse.

I wish we had more "journalists" like him.


  1. I think stretching our definition of "journalist" is not a good thing. I wish fewer journalists were like him.

    I love the show, however.


  2. I would tend to disagree. John Stewart has been shown to keep the younger generation more in tune with the news and with political events in general, then the news of earlier generations.

    And anytime that the youth know what the hell is going on (by whatever medium they choose to be informed) it is a good thing for our country. The fact that he happens to blend humor with information, proves that we may just have to change our definition of "journalist."

    And the show totally rocks, as an added bonus.

  3. I enjoy his show as well. I'm kind of curious to see what will happen with his political commentary if a Democrat is elected.

    Right now, he seems to be pretty left leaning in his bias. I hope that he is just as hard on a Democrat President as he was on the Republican one.

    Doing so would elevate him (at least in my eyes) to a great anti establishment provoker of thought. If he goes soft on President Obama (or Clinton, the Gods forfend) I will be very disappointed in him.

    He's done a good service by making folks think before drinking the Republican Kool Aid. I hope he will choose to do the same instead of chugging down the brand of Kool Aid the Democrats sell.

  4. Rachel,

    What do you think about the fact that Fox News is so denigrated for being a news program that mixes in commentary that is so partisan? My problem is this (and I am no conservative, by the way): if we give Jon Stewart a pass on this mixing commentary with news because he's a comedian, we then can't come back and say he's a journalist.

    If he's a comedian, fine. If he's a journalist, fine. But if he's a journalist, then he's one with an unequivocal political leaning, and he lets that out in his broadcasts. Fox News does just the same thing, but they don't do this dance of pretending they're cute.

    Interested in your thoughts on that angle.


  5. Matt,

    First off, my comment was meant merely to highlight the fact, absolutely free and clear of any political opinion, that if more people are tuning in to his show (either because they like his style or they find themselves agreeing with what he says), then he’s probably hit on something that people are looking for. It’s not about “mixing commentary with news,” it’s about looking at the news and the facts without blinders on. It’s about stepping back and realizing that sometimes what the government is saying is a total load of bull.
    He has said on his show that should a Democrat be elected, he will likewise be as critical of that government as they allow him to be. That is, if their actions warrant it, then he’s not above drawing our attention to it. Can I hold him to that promise? No, but I agree with ‘Savage Henry’ (see comments) that keeping that promise would elevate him in a great many people’s eyes as a great provoker of thought.

    Your comment overall seems to presuppose that in order to qualify as “news,” or at least, news worthy of attention, it must be straight-laced and devoid of any humor or satirical qualities and that the definition of journalist is etched in stone. And thats not something I agree with.

    Not sure if that answered your question.

  6. I don't know about etched in stone, but I do think we can't leave all of our reporting to comedians. In fact, I think John Stewart is almost exclusively a commenter on news -- I don't think TDS does any original reporting or investigation. And for investigative journalists, I do think the only ideal has to be objectivism.



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