Jon Stewart: Journalist or Comedian?

Here's the evidence. You decide.
"That's why I don't have a tie. If I had a tie, I'd be a newsman." Jon Stewart to CNN's Howard Kurtz.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tells viewers “it's even better than being informed.” And each night more than 1.5 million people agree—not to mention numerous judges for the Emmy and the Peabody awards. The satirical news show takes a critical yet hilarious look at government, current affairs, media, and pop culture. Reliable source for daily news or not, the show has seized the attention of more viewers than some traditional journalists can stomach and raised questions about the nature of journalism.

Jon Stewart says he's just a comic. Some journalists disagree.

Dan Kennedy of The Boston Phoenix
“Stewart needs to be more self-aware… Sorry, Jon, but you can't interview Bill Clinton, Richard Clarke, Bill O'Reilly, Bob Dole, etc., etc., and still say you're just a comedian.”

Eric Alterman for The Nation
“Literally no one upheld the honor better of what remains of the media than did this ‘fake news' comedian. He is our leader. How pathetic is that?”

Bill Moyers on the PBS show Now
“You simply can't understand American politics in the new millennium without ‘The Daily Show.'”

How much better is it than being informed?
• Nearly one in four adults aged 18 to 29 get their election news from watching “The Daily Show” or NBC's “Saturday Night Live.” Young people who watched “The Daily Show” scored higher on a campaign knowledge test than network news viewers and newspaper readers. All late-night comedy viewers scored higher than network viewers. “Daily Show” viewers scored higher than both.

• A 2006 Indiana University study finds “The Daily Show” just as substantive as network news. “The Daily Show” has more humor than substance, but network news has more hype. The study concludes that neither source is particularly substantial—a fact “The Daily Show” has never been shy about.

“I'm Just a Comedian”: A collection of Stewart's thoughts about the show
To Bill Moyers of PBS's Now: On faking it
“I think we don't make things up. We just distill it to, hopefully, its most humorous nugget. And in that sense it seems faked and skewed just because we don't have to be subjective or pretend to be objective. We can just put it out there.”

To Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor: On what it's about
“It is, at heart, a comedy show. But it's a comedy show about things we care about. So naturally, it's informed by relevant issues and important information.”

To Howard Kurtz of CNN's Reliable Sources: On pretending to be a journalist
KURTZ: So you don't, you're not confusing yourself with a quote “real journalist”?
STEWART: No. You guys are...
KURTZ: You're just making fun...
STEWART: You guys are confusing yourselves with real journalists.


Sarah M. Kuck became an intern at YES! after earning her environmental journalism degree from Western Washington University. She enjoys being an advocate for environmental and media reform issues, and plans to be the change she wishes to see in the world.

Sources: 2004 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey, the University of Pennsylvania

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