1. Yes, it has been a long time since I’ve posted. College is busy, man.
2. Yes, this entry isn’t about sports. Sometimes you gotta switch it up, right?
As a journalism major, I am no stranger to the “Is Jon Stewart a journalist” debate. I’ve listened to the debate, along with its cousins “is Bill O’Reilly a journalist” or “is Stephen Colbert a journalist,” going back to high school. It’s a somewhat silly debate at face value. It invariably become a debate about definitions, with how you define the term ‘journalist’ becoming the key indicator of how you feel about the issue.
I don’t have a bone to pick in this fight. I think the definition of the term ‘journalist’ is as immaterial as it is subjective. But, in light of Jon Stewart’s recent revelation that his time at The Daily Show will soon come to its end, I’m ready to make a fairly strong declaration: Jon Stewart is the greatest newsman of our generation.
Obviously, Stewart’s show has been a tremendous success, rivaling at times even Fox News’ seemingly untouchable O’Reilly Factor in viewership. His ability to challenge ostensibly more legitimate news shows from the confines of Comedy Central is unquestionably impressive. But his greatest achievement is that he has defined the media for an entire generation. Our generation.
A generation of college kids that grew up getting our news fix from a brainy, snarky, middle aged Jewish guy with slicked back hair, an almost permanently amused expression on his face, and an endearing ability to make the digestion of news as much fun as an Adam Sandler flick. (Well, pre-2003 Sandler, anyway.)
Stewart turned traditional media on its head time and time again. He made fun of it relentlessly. When Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC slipped up, Stewie was there to put them in their place. He put the news world on high alert, and became a sort of highly public watchdog for the media. He turned Crossfire into a punch line. He made Bill O’Reilly look like a fool on his own show.
Then there was also the fundamental role of The Daily Show: to mock the baffling incompetence of the American politicians of our time.
In this respect, Stewart’s success can hardly be overstated. More likable than Bill Maher and harder hitting than his former cast member, the supremely satirical Stephen Colbert, Stewart talked about front-page news. And what Stewart talked about informed what college students and high schools students across America were talking about. Even now, Stewart’s name seems to be near the top of the trending list of Facebook on a near daily basis.
Stewart has managed to blend comedy and news in such a way that he has become, simultaneously, the funniest and most trusted news voice in America for the under-30 crowd. He more or less created the funny-news broadcast, creating a blueprint that Colbert, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, and others have followed. Still, he has showed an ability to channel a serious tone. His solemn first post-9/11 broadcast remains an important moment in American media history. More recently, his commentary on race in America has hardly been standard Comedy Central fare.
For all his success, Stewart cannot be pigeonholed. He is more than a comedian. He is more than a great debater—though he thrives magnificently in that role. He is more than simply a defender of New York pizza. And he’s more than just a liberal foil for the conservative media machine.
Jon Stewart is the voice of news in the 21st century. He’s our Walter Cronkite.