The Daily Obfuscation

Spring 2006, Content

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is, according to Stewart, “the most trusted name in fake news.” But in the angry world of cable news, Jon Stewart is actually one of the most trusted names in news. He is certainly one of the more genuine people you’ll find delivering the news.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Stewart and his band of marauding reporters could be found everywhere. They asked tough questions at the debates, stalked the halls of both party conventions and wrote America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. Shortly after America was released, Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire. But instead of promoting the book, Stewart took the two hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, to task for failing their “responsibility to public discourse.”

Begala and Carlson expected the Jon Stewart we all know and love–the goofy guy making snarky comments on the day’s political and media happenings–but instead had to deal with a smart, pissed-off American. Stewart opened by pleading with the two to stop hurting the country, calling them “partisan hacks” who, instead of holding public representatives accountable to the public, are responsible for the poisonous atmosphere surrounding politics and government.

During Gulf War I, CNN proved the viability of 24-hour news by its continuous coverage of that war. Especially awe inspiring were the neon green anti-aircraft tracer rounds being fired into the night and the bright explosions of Baghdad against the dark desert. Entrepreneurs and advertisers saw these images, these live action shots straight from a movie, and thought of all the money to be made. They moved quickly and now we’re plagued with a plethora of these all day, every day “news” channels.

An all day news channel provides an excellent forum to delve into the major stories of the day. Instead of relying on press releases for their stories, journalists could actually go investigate leads and find their own stories. But this kind of in-depth, investigative coverage costs money and isn’t guaranteed pull in the viewers. At the end of the day, we want to be entertained.

In this era of entertainment news we get five minutes of two people on opposite sides of the political spectrum yelling talking points at each other instead of explaining and detailing their positions. We get a sensory overload with dazzling graphics, grating breaking news alerts, multiple screens, news tickers and color-coded threat levels void of detail. We get reporters asking inflammatory and leading questions, anchors shouting down anyone they don’t agree with. We get a circus and come away from each encounter with it a little dumber.

Jon Stewart may be the anchor of a comedy news show, a fake news show, but he is an astute observer and critic of the media. During the recent controversy between James Frey and Oprah Winfrey, Stewart and his writers put together a segment that highlighted the differences between our world and Oprah’s world. After James Frey admitted to making up most of his best selling memoir A Million Little Pieces, Winfrey, who’s endorsement sent the book to the top of best seller lists, brought him back on the show and picked each of his lies apart for her audience. Stewart contrasted this show of accountability with O’Reilly’s interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the statement/question: “So you and Dick Cheney aren’t the torture guys the New York Times say you are.”

O’Reilly, who purports to officiate over “the no-spin zone,” once claimed, using, as far as I can tell, a study pulled out of his ass, that 87 percent of Stewart’s viewers watch while intoxicated and called them “stoned slackers.” He went on to lament the fact that Stewart’s show can actually influence this cadre of non-thinking, unemployed, stoner Americans. However, an Annenberg Survey conducted in 2004 showed that these stoned slackers are more knowledgeable about the two presidential candidates than national news viewers and newspaper readers.

So people watching a fake news show, a fake news show on a comedy channel, a fake news show that follows a show about puppets making crank phone calls, are more informed about national events than those watching CNN, Fox News, or NBC, or reading The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, or The Washington Post? To use Stewart’s words: “What the fuck happened?”

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