How Jon Stewart and The Daily Show Helped Kill Off Brian Williams and Broadcast News
It was more than a little weird that Jon Stewart announced his departure from The Daily Show the same day that Brian Williams announced his suspension from The NBC Nightly News.
Not because they're both from New Jersey (Greatest. State. Ever.) or because Williams was a recurring guest on Stewart's show. No, it's because The Daily Show played a huge role in cutting down the authority and power of broadcast and cable news in our mediascape. The big evening news programs may still draw relatively monster ratings, but the audience is a sliver of what it once was and will never again dictate what matters to us.
From my latest column at Time:
Who needs to watch someone simply read the news when you can watch someone deliver the same information, plus a satire of the medium itself? Especially for people under 50, who have no memories of Papa Cronkite and who remember supposedly legendary anchors such as Dan Rather only for bizarre episodes ("Kenneth, What is the Frequency?") and outright fabrications, The Daily Show was a one-stop show for news and commentary on the news. In an age of multi-tasking, that's a godsend.
Especially in its early years, The Daily Show didn't just riff on the news and poke fun and roll eyes at the endless spew of stupid and self-serving statements made by celebrities, politicians, and other hucksters. With the help of talented producers, writers, and "correspondents" including Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Nancy Walls, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Larry Wilmore, The Daily Show mimicked perfectly every aspect of network and cable news-gathering. The show was replete with ridiculous camera shots designed to reinforce audience sympathies, godawful banter between host and reporters, even more godawful questioning of people during news segments, and manic graphics that hyped every minor threat as the next great catastrophe facing the planet. And they actually produced stories that were being followed by everyone else in the business. By highlighting how the news is stitched together, The Daily Show helped instill a form of media literacy that is hugely important in a media-saturated age.
For all that, there's little doubt that, like Kwai Chang Caine leaving the Shaolin temple in the old Kung Fu series, it is time for Stewart to go:
In a particularly ridiculous moment from last year, Stewart apologized for saying on CNN (of all places) that he hadn't voted in the midterm elections. He was "being flip," he told his own audience later. "It sent a message that I didn't think voting was important or that I didn't think it was a big issue. And I do, and I did vote." Please, when a fake newsman starts thinking his every utterance is being taken seriously and needs to be defended or amended, something has gone very wrong.
Related: "What We Saw at the Stewart-Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear" (2010):