Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why is Jon Stewart "America's Most Trusted Newscaster?"

According to several polls over the last few years, the most well known being the June 2009 online poll by TIME Magazine, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is the most trusted televised newscaster since Walter Cronkite.

Some bloggers have gone on to suggest this shows just how far down in the dumps America, or at least American television news, has fallen in recent years.

I personally don't think it's that bad a thing. I'm online a dozen or so times a day, which allows me to keep up with national and world news, then I check a couple of local news sites at least once a day, and then I re-cap at night with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Sure, technically, The Daily Show isn't a news program. It's supposed to be a comedy show. Yet it is always up to date with the latest daily news unless something has happened right before the show airs.

I have no facts or statistics to back this up, but since The Daily Show seems to be pretty popular, I'd have to guess a good number of Americans catch up with the news through The Daily Show. Sometimes they might even learn about something that had slipped past them during the day; I know this happens to me from time to time.

But considering Jon Stewart calls himself a comedian and apparently doesn't think of himself as a newscaster, and the fact his show is on Comedy Central, one has to wonder how Jon Stewart has become so trusted by Americans.

I believe there are three reasons.

1.) Entertainment value

This is an easy one. Americans like to be entertained. And Jon Stewart is funny. His whole show is funny. Yes, not every single episode will keep you laughing throughout, but generally the show is very good. And even when it's not so good, it will still provide a couple of chuckles.

Most of the jokes are at the expense of public figures, usually politicians or other members of news media outlets. And wouldn't you rather laugh along with the news than be scared by it? Which is usually the case if you watch CNN or FOX or any of the other news stations. At the best, most news show are depressing, at worst they'll have you shaking you're so scared of the terrorists who are going to kill you, or the government that's going to kill you, or the poisoned atmosphere that's going to kill your children ... I could go on and on.

At least Jon Stewart tries to give us some news and send us to bed without nightmares but a smile on our faces.

2.) Information value

The Daily Show is also informative, which is pretty important if you're watching it for some of its news value. The first half of the show is most often simply a cover of the big events of the day, which might not be new to most viewers, but the last part of the show usually is Stewart interviewing someone. Often he is interviewing an author pushing a new book, or sometimes it's a celebrity with a new movie, and yet other times it's a politician with an agenda. It could be any number of people for any number of reasons. But usually the person being interviewed is offering new information, or at least a new insight into something news oriented.

I've learned a good deal just by watching the various authors Stewart has interviewed, and Stewart usually goes for the authors with news impact, not just the latest thriller novelist (not that there's anything wrong with thrillers or thriller novelists).

3.) The "Truth" factor

I don't know Jon Stewart. He could be a complete bastard for all I know. But on television he comes off as a pretty likable guy. Not only is he funny, but he seems like he's trying to be helpful, and he's usually apologetic if it appears he has stepped over the line by not being fair to a guest (which is extremely rare).

So, he's likable, at least to most viewing Americans. Why is that important? Because of what I call the "Truth" factor. It appears that Jon Stewart is telling us the truth when he speaks about news and when his show comments on news and other media. Stewart doesn't come off as if he's trying to push an agenda or he's trying to sell us something, which can't be said for nearly every U.S. politician at all levels.

Stewart does seem to lean a little towards the left (politically speaking), but he doesn't come off by any means as a far lefty, but more as a moderate with leftist tendencies. And Stewart and his show don't shy from targeting those politicians who are on the left. He hits the Democrats and Republicans both pretty hard (admittedly the GOP might look a little worse on the show, but if you're honest about it, the Republicans give a lot more to work with in comedy than do the generally more-boring Democrats).

But putting aside politics, Stewart and his gang poke a lot of fun at the news media itself, especially the televised news media. And here I think is another place where The Daily Show really shines. Stewart and crew show us, quite baldly and blankly, how the news plays things up to look differently than they really are. The latest news report scaring you? Stewart's going to make fun of it. Tired of all the one-sidedness on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc? Stewart will make you laugh about it. Think C-SPAN is boring? Chuckle about it with Jon.

See, the media as a whole are supposed to be the watchdogs in America. But they've fallen down on the job the last few decades, especially over the last decade. If anything, the media has become just another part of "the system," more worried about itself and making the next buck than it is about truly, fairly covering the news.

Which is where The Daily Show steps in. Stewart has become the watchdog of the watchdogs. He keeps his eyes, and ours, glued on the happenings of not only the politicians, but of those who are supposed to be covering the politicians.

It's almost a new form of journalism, the comedy news show.

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