The Humor in Credible Reporting

Jon Stewart, seen here in the 2010's “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” announced during a taping of the Daily Show that he will be retiring. (Wikimedia photo/ Cliff)

To say the last six hours in the media has been a surreal experience would be an understatement. Brian Williams being suspended from NBC News on the same night that Jon Stewart decides to end his nearly two-decade run on the Daily Show made for an interesting night of media self-reflection. We look at one institution with a de-facto credibility in terms of journalism and another institution that is trying to rebuild its credibility after one if its managing editors inflated his importance.

It’s become cliché to talk about that the younger audience gets its news from the Daily Show. It seems that the audience that would tune into the Daily Show would be relatively informed on current events and is least likely to trust news from a traditional broadcast evening news show. It is this direct conflict that media scholars have been trying to explain since the decline of evening news ratings.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a parody of a traditional newscast. It has all the optics and all of the artifacts that would be found on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and the wide array of national and local newscasts. There was an additional element that the Daily Show had that was missing for most of the shows that the Daily Show parodied; a critical analysis of the construction of the mediated content on top of the issues of the day.

Despite what Jon Stewart would claim, the Daily Show was more than just a simple comedy show. Jon Stewart was more than just a simple comedian. He was a kindred spirit to Neil Postman, author of “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” There are many examples of times that Stewart and the rest of his staff tore apart the façade of the entertainment layer that permeated through the important issues of the day. It is through this parody presentation of the news that real issues were discussed and allowed for the beginning of a debate. The humor that was consistently present in the daily show was the foundation of reasonable criticism towards the absurd events that were present within the 24-hour news cycle.

The most interesting fact about the Daily Show was the interviews. You were likely to see a physicist or a presidential scholar sitting across from Jon Stewart one night. The next night, a movie star. It was this balance between the popular and the intellectual that allow Jon Stewart to maintain his sense of being grounded in the stories behind the stories. This grounding in reality is also shown by the alumni of the Daily Show: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver & Larry Wilmore.

It is hard to see another comedian take a similar approach to addressing the news to Stewart. Jon Stewart is a by-product of the changes in journalism. The gaps in creditability from traditional news can be argued to be a major reason for the success of a show like the Daily Show. The news of Brian Williams’ suspension from NBC and Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show at the end of the year means that those studying journalism in near future will have to talk about these events within the same thematic discussion.

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