What will we do without Jon Stewart? As someone said in NPR’s On the Media, Stewart’s Daily Show has far more integrity as a fake news show, than do real news programs. Stewart does not spin, fiddle, defer to authority, sort, submerge, hide, hype, or exaggerate. He certainly would not tell tall tales about how he and his buddies were shot down in the Iraqi desert during wartime.
What’s that? Brian Williams went to Letterman for his storytelling fix, not to the Daily Show? It’s one thing when you tell your buddies in a bar about the time you got shot at. Your buddies like the entertainment, and after several beers, they don’t put a lot of stock in the truth, anyway. They like bulls**t! Loosen up your imagination.
Tell stories like that on the air, however, and people may get a little peeved. The people who actually did get shot down might tell the braggart to shut up. They don’t like to brag about their helicopter getting hit, and they don’t care to hear a pretender tell his version of their story, when he wasn’t even there.
The matter of trust in a network news anchor is another matter altogether. How is everyone on the internet talking about trust in a mainstream news figure? He has a big forehead and a square jaw, a well modulated voice, and a serious but not too grave manner. They all lend authority to everything he says. NBC expects us to take that seriously? Who takes mainstream news seriously anymore? That’s why we watch Jon Stewart – because he actually has some integrity! We know what he says even if we don’t watch him. Jon Stewart’s take on the news has far more credibility than anything Brian Williams and his team of sycophants might put together.
That is what mainstream news people have become: sycophants. In fact, that is what defines the mainstream media right now. If you stick with the safe story, the one that does not bring the feds crawling around to cause you trouble, you have kept your boat in the river’s main channel. If you poke the leviathan in the gonads with a sharp stick hard enough to wake it up, you have taken your boat down a side stream, where the governmental beast will make sure you go over a waterfall or become lost in a swamp, never to reach an audience again. Ask Julian Assange what happens to people who wield a sharp stick.
Let’s return to Jon Stewart. Here is what America’s master satirist has to say about Brian Williams:
The second half of Stewart’s broadcast, Guardians of the Veracity, raises a question you can hardly overlook: why are the media talking on and on about truth and trust in connection with Williams’ war story, when the media broadcast government’s lies to build support for the Iraq war in the first place? An anchorman’s war story on Letterman creates more distrust than parading government officials on Meet the Press and Face the Nation, where they tell boogey-man stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction? I suppose when you fall flat on the big stuff, you make up for it on the down side – like the husband who has an affair, brings his wife some chocolates on Valentine’s day, then calls her fat.
You have to give the media credit for this much: they don’t seem in the least aware how self-important and unbelievable they appear. Practically no one watches the nightly network news at suppertime anymore. Why would anyone want to? Yet millions watch the Daily Show at eleven pm, on a network called _Comedy Central_, where one of the show’s main purposes is to satirize and laugh at the network news! The irony is outstanding: Stewart makes fun of the network news shows night after night for the incredible way they report current events, and they become gravely anxious about their credibility when one of their own is caught telling a war story. Stewart wonders how these professionals can be so self-absorbed.
I wonder if Williams’ boss hopes he won’t come back after six months. Meantime, Brian should appear as a guest on his own show, chalk in hand with a blackboard as a backdrop. Then he should write a hundred times, “I will not tell war stories, dilate on Katrina, or exaggerate the number of puppies I saved ever again. No, I will not.” The time required for that exercise might actually occupy two newscasts, and gain ratings for NBC that it could never obtain from what it calls real news.
The analysis above suggests that Jon Stewart’s commentary on the news places him well apart from mainstream news sources. On the other hand, you do not see a lot of commentary from him on big topics like the CIA’s post-9/11 torture archipelago, Edward Snowden and internet surveillance, or the controlled demolition of World Trade Center 7. As a satirist, he does not have an obligation to take up topics like that. He picks subjects that work well for his comedy. He picks up on things he knows his audience will appreciate.
People look to him for a daily summary of the news, though. The mainstream sources are so bad – and so discouraging in the way they handle the news – that his audience needs to laugh at what’s coming down. We have no other human way to deal with the folly and deceit we see around us. In his treatment of the news material that comes down the pike, in his selection of interview guests, and in the rather conventional political positions Stewart takes, you could not say he way off the mainstream. His boat is not headed towards the waterfall, and you don’t see the feds pressuring Comedy Central to take him off the air.
Both Jon Stewart and Glenn Greenwald have severely criticized the mainstream media. One of the two, Greenwald, must live in Brazil. Greenwald is not the only person who lives in exile, or who faces serious trouble for what used to be free speech and journalistic disclosure. Jon Stewart can retire comfortably if he likes. He did not cross the government’s line, and he did not make anyone’s list of way-out-there people who want to call government to account for its crimes. I’m curious what his audience would have thought if he had taken his work in that direction. Perhaps true crimes are not good material for satire.