Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Thank you and goodbye, Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart on the set of the Daily Show

Jon Stewart bade us farewell after more than 16 years of anchoring the Daily Show, which will carry on with new host Trevor Noah. Stewart left us with this salient piece of advice:

The best defence against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.

The Globe and Mail left us with this insight into Stewart’s significance (“Thank you, Jon Stewart. You made journalism better“):

Jon Stewart was not the first person to have noticed that a lot of (U.S.? – Bill D.) television news is bullshit. Nor was he the first comedian to have realized that the defining features of the worst of it – pretentiousness, cliche, inauthenticity, lack of curiosity and, in the case of Fox News, partisan obliviousness – were ripe for mockery. He is not the one who discovered that truth is the first casualty, of everything.

What Mr. Stewart and his team of writers learned, slowly at first when he took over The Daily Show in 1999, and then with increasing enthusiasm and skill, was that they could not only milk the world’s endless supply of b.s. for laughs – they could also put the laughs to a serious purpose, turning their fake news show into something more profound than many of the “real” news and public affairs programs it parodied.

On its best days, Mr. Stewart’s show was a master class in journalistic criticism, and journalism itself. His targets, whether politicians or journalists, stood accused not so much of being wrong as being uninterested in the truth.

The editorial went on to mention the notorious 2004 dustup on CNN’s Crossfire as being one of Stewart’s finest moments (you can watch it in the clip attached to the bottom of this post).

But Stewart, as brilliantly mocking as he could be of some of the tropes and foolishness of U.S. TV news, especially cable, always recognized he was in the comedy business first, and the media criticism business second.

I think that if he crossed the floor and became a serious news guy, he would have been nowhere near as popular. As the editorial notes:

Mr. Stewart seems to have understood that unless he played a little blue and a lot childish, with braniac riffs on complex public policy issues bracketed by the easily accessible laughs to be had from one more release of the f-word, he’d run the risk of coming across as an egghead.

As I’ve said before, I think Stewart left at the right time. I’d stopped watching his show on a regular basis because it had become formulaic (maybe it was always formulaic, and I just got sick of the formula). He mocked politicians hard in his “news” segment, but always pandered to entertainment figures who came on his show to promote a new play, movie or TV show.

But at their best, Stewart and his changing cast of characters and behind-the-scenes produced fake news that was both entertaining and thought-provoking. Entertaining would have been enough. Stewart’s legacy is how much thought-provocation he pulled off.

 Other reads on the end of the Stewart era

The Guardian, Aug. 9 – Now that Jon Stewart has stepped down, does anyone have his edge?

Poynter.org, Aug. 4 – Here are 4 of our favorite Jon Stewart media moments

The New Yorker, Aug. 10 – Exit, Stage Left

Boston Globe, Aug. 4 – Jon Stewart’s game-changing legacy

New York Times, Aug. 7 – Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness

NYT via Globe and Mail, Aug. 7 – Jon Stewart signs off with wit and sincerity

Globe and Mail, Aug. 5 – John Doyle: Jon Stewart is one link in a long line of media satirists

Globe and Mail, Aug. 3 – Konrad Yakabuski: No Joke: Jon Stewart became what he once denounced

Thu, August 6 2015 » Main Page, Media