Today the news is dominated by Jon Stewart’s decision to retire from the Daily Show. While the Republican-ruled Congress fumbles the ball on funding Homeland Security, while the President negotiates Congressional authorization to continue and expand the war against the ISIS scourge, while the nation deals with any number of urgent matters, it’s a comedian who commands the national spotlight.
The management at Comedy Central mourned his departure with the comment that Stewart is “a comedic genius.”
And, yes, there was a lot of laughter during his nightly broadcast.
But whenever I tuned in, what I saw was an honest reporter speaking truth to power, as a free press is supposed to do.
He did it with a lot of histrionics, mugging and gesturing and using words that would have made Grandma wash out his mouth with soap.
So I suppose you could classify the performance as comedy.
But it was really commentary. Good, common-sense commentary that we don’t seem to get anywhere else these days.
Yes I laughed, but my laughter was prompted more by surprise and relief than by Stewart’s antics. I was surprised and relieved that someone, somewhere was finally spilling the beans, finally telling us what we already knew but dared not acknowledge, that the emperor’s new suit was a scam, that he was stark naked yet nobody wanted to be the first to say so.
Behind Stewart’s jocular persona was a sharply analytical mind and the willingness to do the dogged research that honest reporting demands. He didn’t just repeat what the flaks told him, the way so many “journalists” do today. He looked it up. He fact checked the BS. Then he thought it through.
And what he found was hilarious because – especially in politics and political reporting – the truth today is so outlandish.
I don’t know what Stewart plans to do now, but I think he belongs in the regular news game. What he has to say should be regarded as analysis, not satire.
Jonathan Swift was a satirist. The Onion is satire. Their impact comes from presenting truth in fantastic, exaggerated scenarios that defy literal belief.
Jon Stewart is a news analyst. If his analysis makes us laugh, it’s because the substance is so bizarre, not because he distorted it to amuse us.
And the insulting disregard for the public’s intelligence that so much of the political “news” demonstrates should not just make us laugh. It should make us mad as hell.