Last night, Jon Stewart announced he would not be renewing his contract for The Daily Show. It immediately set off a scramble – who is going to replace him? What might this mean for intelligent, hard-hitting media criticism? And what is Jon going to do in the future?
You might think that in this era of Twitter, blogs, user-generated content, et. al., that the mainstream media no longer matters. That is most certainly untrue. In the digital age, the business model of The News might be broken, but the authority and influence of major media outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have never been higher. Getting their content seen was the easy part for old line Media; figuring out how to monetize it is the hard part.
What made Stewart and the Daily Show required viewing was how they saw through all of the bullshit. They punctured the cocksure hubris of elected officials, business people, institutions — really, any wanker who was both arrogant and, more often than not, completely, hopelessly, utterly, and (best of all) hilariously wrong.
TDS may have been the first major media source to push back against the jingoistic run up to the Iraq war (those of you too young to recall, that was the country that did not attack us on 9/11). While the New York Times — the paper of record, mind you — ran front page WMD articles under the byline of the now discredited Judith Miller, TDS revealed the nonsensical propaganda for what it was. Some of the more hypocritical aspects of political jockeying, elections, and business received their finest skewering on the show. They constantly questioned the self-righteous, the foolhardy, the pontificating politicos. Did anything else from the Financial Crisis come remotely close to the moment of catharsis when Jim Cramer laid down to receive his punishment (and that of all financial media) on the show?
That’s before we get to the relentless stream of foolishness that is Fox News, the network that actually makes its viewers less informed than watching nothing at all. My interactions with Fox News viewers have led me to theorize that each day of watching the channel shaves off one single IQ point. Speak with someone who has been watching Fox for many years — do the math — and good luck trying to disprove my thesis.
It was Stewart who correctly pointed out that, during the Glenn Beck era, amiable blowhard Bill O’Reilly was actually the sole “responsible adult” at Fox; O’Reilly was rationale, at least on a relative Fox scale. This explains exactly how far off the rails that Fox “News” had gone.
Sure, they are wildly popular and insanely profitable, but so was cocaine in the 1980s.
Perhaps most important of all, Stewart & Co. turned their lens and razor sharp wit on the media as a whole – and found it terribly wanting. Just as the news business was in financial trouble, so too the reporting of news was itself facing an existential crisis. Perhaps this was not merely a coincidence, but a causal relationship.
Former Daily Show staffer John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week has taken what Stewart began — using farce and satire to point out serious wrongs in society — and shifted the news/comedy ratio that much closer to actual investigative journalism. It is a hybrid of one part TDS, one part 60 Minutes, and the show is unique and all the better for it. Oh, and they actually make news each week with their reports.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see what comes along afterwards. I doubt anything is going to replace Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. The worst job in show business might be whoever has to sit in that seat after Stewart.
The Daily Show mattered — and that is not a thing you can say about a lot of media, regardless of whether they were of the “new” or “old” variety.
How I Ended Up On The Daily Show (January 28th, 2014)