A funny thing has happened to American journalism in the past few decades. The profession has become so degraded that the best journalist in America today is a comedian.
In an article lauding the Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart (photo above) for his role in getting health care funds for responders to the World Trade Center attack, Bill Carter and Brian Stelter of The New York Times want to know:
Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?
And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart – despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism – the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?
As far as I can see, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
Yes, comedian Jon Stewart is without doubt the top journalist in America today. And he doesn’t have much competition. The so-called “reporters” who populate the airwaves, besiege the internet and grind out type to fill the columns of newspapers and magazines are at best passive and at worst corrupt.
You are not going to find any Edward R. Murrows in an America where Rush Limbaugh and the Fox gang are among those entrusted with bringing us the “news.”
The reasons for the profession’s decline are many. They include the demise of newspapers, the acquisition of media outlets by global corporations and an organized crusade by conservative billionaires to bully reporters and manage public opinion.
You have only to watch CNN to see how much the news business has declined. If you’re old enough to remember the news network back in Ted Turner’s time, you will know what I mean. Today’s CNN is a pale shadow of its former self. It provides few original insights or startling disclosures. The voices viewers normally hear are from flacks mouthing tired set pieces composed by opposing political camps.
And who did the best job of showing up CNN? Jon Stewart did. His “let’s leave it there” piece is a classic.
Stewart is a razor sharp analyst who does his homework. He is also blessed with the ability to put the pieces together in a powerful way.
That doesn’t mean there are no talented journalists. Rachel Maddow is as talented as they come, but it seems to me that she is limited by the whims and caprices of a sophomoric bunch of “producers” who think they have to play the fool to keep the audience’s attention (and the advertising dollars rolling in). Ditto for Keith Olbermann.
Fareed Zakaria obviously possesses a brilliant mind. But he is strictly an armchair observer. The same goes for Elliott Spitzer.
That leaves us a choice between such showbiz types as Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera or the likes of the robotic Wolf Blitzer. Even worse are the “reporters” who are married to public figures or have other close relationships with them. It would be really naive to expect objectivity from them on issues in which their spouses or buddies are involved.
No, there’s really no competition. Jon Stewart is today’s Edward R. Murrow. So let’s laugh along with him. There’s no point in crying.