Punchline versus headline

Nov. 11, 2005, midnight | By Isaac Arnsdorf | 15 years, 7 months ago

"The Daily Show" redefines the news

Baby boomers can still remember when Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. For many teens of this generation, that role has now been filled by Jon Stewart.

Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has become a mainstay in many Blazers' media diet. The Emmy- and Peabody-winning comedy show, which spoofs both newsmakers and newscasters, draws more viewers aged 18 to 34 during its time slot than Fox, MSNBC, CNBC and CNN, according to a 2004 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Such comedy shows are increasingly common: During the 2004 presidential campaign season, they regularly provided campaign news for 21 percent of Americans under 30, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. As the phenomenon of "The Daily Show" spreads, its unique presentation of current events has redefined the way Blazers and the public learn about the news.

I can't believe it's not news

"The Daily Show" is more laid-back and takes itself less seriously than traditional news, defying many of the conventions of traditional journalism, says Dannagal Young, a senior analyst at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

In contrast to the mainstream media's adherence to standards such as objectivity and unbiased reporting, "'The Daily Show' presents an alternative form that is completely subjective," Young says. "The popularity of 'The Daily Show' is alarming traditional news people by showing that people want political information delivered in a different way."

Unrestrained by a commitment to impartial, balanced coverage, Stewart is particularly adept at exposing politicians' hypocrisy and contradictions by comparing rhetoric to reality. "Jon Stewart does a great job, and sometimes a better job than straight journalists, at holding leaders accountable," says David Mindich, a journalism professor at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont. "He uses the words of leaders and contrasts that with fact."

In addition to criticizing the news itself, "The Daily Show" mocks mainstream media for its traditional presentation of the news. Stewart ridicules the press for "how journalists never call a spade a spade" and never scrutinize the accuracy of the opposing arguments in a debate, Young says.

Stewart is a comedian, not a newscaster, but his show's frequent focus on politics blurs the line between entertainment and news. Young considers this integration a positive development that can increases interest and awareness. The alternative approach of "The Daily Show" is more appealing, especially to teenagers, because its humor and satire is more exciting than traditional news, says freshman Christina Watson.

The most trusted name in fake news

Beyond its entertainment value, studies indicate that viewers gain more from the show than just laughs. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center study, viewers of "The Daily Show" were more educated and more interested in the 2004 presidential campaign than the average American, and they were also more informed about the campaign than regular national news viewers or newspaper readers.

Young believes that although "The Daily Show" viewers may learn from the show, most of them are already highly informed from other news sources. Many Blazers who watch "The Daily Show" agree that it neither is nor should be an exclusive source of news. "It's smart humor, so knowing what's going on makes it better," says junior Nick Wolf. "If it was someone's only source of news, I would tell them to go read a newspaper."

Junior Allison Rubin says the liberal bias of "The Daily Show" invalidates its credibility. But Wolf maintains that the show is credible because it parodies, but does not fabricate, the news.

The show has no pretension of objectivity, says junior Lea Savard-McNicol. Stewart does not veil his liberal ideology, she says, and the show's various taglines emphasize that it is fake news.

Indeed, "The Daily Show" web site calls itself "the one news organization with no credibility to lose."

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" airs Mondays through Thursdays at
11 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Isaac Arnsdorf. <span style='display: none;'>Isaac Arnsdorf is a perfectionistic grammar nerd with no sense of humor. According to co-editor Allie O'Hora, "he enjoys listening to rhythmless, atonal 'music' and reading the encyclopedia." He sleeps with the Manifesto under his pillow.</span> More »

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