Media Analysis: Murrow didn't do fart jokes: Why Jon Stewart is not America's next great journalist, and that's okay
December 27th, 2010
04:31 PM ET
12 years ago

Media Analysis: Murrow didn't do fart jokes: Why Jon Stewart is not America's next great journalist, and that's okay

(CNN)–What is Jon Stewart? A lot was made of the "Daily Show" host after his D.C. rally, which got major national attention and saw hundreds of thousands of fans in attendance. Recently Stewart took up the cause of the 9/11 first responders, called out the Senators holding up the health care bill and held a powerful panel of first responders to talk about the issue. Late last week, it passed.

Today the New York Times (as well as NPR) profiled Stewart and his successful 9/11 first responder efforts, with the NYT saying it had "echoes of Murrow" – referring to legendary news anchor Edward R. Murrow. Stewart is an extremely influential member of the media. But he is not like Murrow – or even a journalist.

Here is the key question from the Times: "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?"

Quote machine professor Robert Thompson said "the two that come instantly to mind are Murrow and Cronkite," referring to another legendary anchor, Walter Cronkite. "He so pithily articulated the argument that once it was made, it was really hard to do anything else."

What happened with the 9/11 first responders bill was a victory for Stewart, and impressive TV. But it was the exception, not the rule. Stewart often speaks truth to power, and calls out those in positions ranging from the White House to the anchor desk. Maybe he's an advocacy comedian. Maybe he's just a uniquely talented TV host, focusing on politics and current events. In fact, it's hard to knock comparisons to Fox News host Glenn Beck – both draw from visual elements to connect to their audiences. While Beck makes his political points with a chalkboard, Stewart uses edited video clips. And they both use puppets.

A recent New York Magazine profile of Stewart gave a glimpse into the "Daily Show" process. The show is meticulous and well thought out, but when the debate is about the political and comedic merits of a Linda McMahon "nut shot," the Murrow comparison drifts further away. There is no doubt Stewart and his writers have points to make. But if it's not funny, they won't get to make those points very long, on a network that has the word "Comedy" in its name.

Many people are watching, and they are young and influential. Journalists love it – Brian Williams, another person who sometimes gets the Cronkite comparison was quoted again in the NYT piece about Stewart. This could be why the reaction to Stewart's segment reverberated as much as it did across the media. Even the White House took note, with Robert Gibbs saying he hoped Stewart's focus could push the bill forward. But only a small percentage of the country as a whole tunes in to watch whatever it is Stewart does.

Some worried Stewart would be devoid of comedic material once Obama entered office. He's been just fine – sharply critical of the media as well as the Democratic administration. There is little doubt that if the skilled and learned comedian had a "Daily Show" during the time of Murrow or Cronkite, he'd find the occasional opportunity to aim his jabs at the journalistic superstars as well.

Stewart is an outsider – outside the political world, and outside the journalistic world. He navigates this role brilliantly, and in doing so, he can mix the forays into bathroom humor with the occasional turn toward the very-serious: whether it's the recent 9/11 first responders bill, his final speech at the October rally or even his takedown of Jim Cramer in the wake of the financial meltdown.

Jon Stewart is not Edward R. Murrow – because if he was, there would be no Jon Stewart.

Filed under: Jon Stewart
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Zazu

    Thanks for stating the obvious. I don't think the profiles were saying that Stewart is (identical) Morrow.

    December 27, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  2. Monster Zero

    Jon Stewart is a product of Hollywood, a liberal Jewish tool...

    Brought to you by a semi-literate fool with a bad combination of misinformation, higher education and belief in our Constitution and civil liberties.

    December 27, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  3. Andrew

    I think the slightly bitter tone of this article is because Steward threw a jab in on the whole 'Piers Morgan' experiment. This article sounds more like sour grapes than anything else. What makes Stewart attractive to the audience he has is yes, he on the outside, but he as a comedian as the latitude to point out some of the utterly baffling things that those on the 'inside' label as 'important' or 'newsworthy'. Those on the 'inside' have to maintain the status quo with filler and pushing out some of the most mundane information and CGI'ing it for entertainment value. I think people are getting sick of watching reporters interviewing other reporters or in-house analysts, getting the opinions of those who are supposed to be passing along information to the public, not injecting themselves into the mix to get viewers......

    December 27, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  4. AVI

    Stewart is fantastic and quite often his satire is truly like a mirror being held to the media or the power centers at washington, the absurdity and fake nature of the political process and debates which lack so much of the reasonableness and compromise that is so important to progress.

    December 27, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  5. DIANA

    Jon Stewart is good at pointing out the ridiculous in politics and the media. His comedy is both funny and insightful. I've always been a fan and will continue to be as long as he has a show.

    December 27, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  6. Rick McDaniel

    Stewart is an entertainer, not a journalist.

    December 27, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  7. Roberto

    While Jon Stewart may not be an Edward Morrow journalist, he was right on the money when he brought the 9-11 responders to the table to call out the Republican hypocrits on the responders bill. The Republicans were the ones in power in the WH and congress when 9-11 occurred. They (from GWB on down) were the ones saying it was safe to be at ground zero working. THe Republicans continually campaigned on the legend of 9-11.

    But when it came time to respond to the responders, the Republicans chose to stab them in the back. Republicans are worthy to lick the bottom of the responders boots.

    December 27, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  8. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    As far as the first responders go, the Republican Taliban wishs to kill more of the Americans that their Al Quaeda brethern missed.

    December 27, 2010 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  9. Roman

    Stewart may not be a journalist of Murrow's caliber or level of social influence, but he sure is head and shoulders above anyone at CNN today. Case in point, the producer of Piers Morgan's show writing a piece about how Jon Stewart isn't all that important - just a tiny bit laughable, isn't it?

    December 27, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  10. jeff, alabama

    Murrow was a professional
    journalist, John boy is a joke !!!!

    December 27, 2010 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  11. buddyroe

    I heard John changed
    his name to JON to be chic.
    Sounds a little french to me.

    December 27, 2010 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  12. Marie MD

    I watched the show and it was one of the best he has ever had. The rethugs were hichjacking the vote for 9/11 first responders. The Daily Show had four responders who all have cancer or lung and heart problems.
    Stewart might not be a journalist but he gives more in depth views of our political system than the lame stream media.
    During the election marathon he had better coverage of things that were never covered and should have been starting with angle all the way to that DE witch and all in between.
    That is sad in so many ways since he has a comedy show!

    December 27, 2010 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  13. hap

    This writer is a snob and can't give credit without disclaimer. He's nothing like Glen Speck, and doesn't edit video clips, or take comments out of contex (sic). I agree the sour grapes comes through in this article clearly. Sorry Pal, as he has said before, if you did your job he wouldn't have the material to do his. Exactly where was the medias outrage when they shot this down two weeks ago?

    December 27, 2010 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  14. Albo58

    Ref: Roberto: somethings you didn't mention:
    1. The American taxpayers have already been milked for $billions for the 9-11 tragedy.
    2. The plaintiffs in this case are ALL Union members of the STATE of New York.
    3. The Republicans saved over $2B of American taxpayer dollars during negotiation AND ensured most of the money would go toward health care and not lawyers!
    So, stop wrapping yourself with the American flag and re-writing history!

    December 27, 2010 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  15. robert

    Jon Stewart may not be the next great journalist, but American corporate media - FOX, CNN, and MSNBC - is the current great joke (that just happens to be more sad than funny).

    December 27, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  16. standingwave

    Conservatives must have cringed then immediatly lobotomized themselves when Stewart pointed out that one of Fox News major stockholders is Saud Prince Al Waleed bin Talal.Coincidentally the furor over the Islamic Cultural Center seems to have died down since then.Wonder why.

    December 27, 2010 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  17. Kara

    He's more of a journalist than Piers Morgan is.

    December 27, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  18. Dr Matrix

    Jon Stewart doesn't claim to be a journalist. He is merely someone with a platform using it in way he considers best. No different than Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity or Savage, just a different point of view. So the only way some people can disagree is by calling names and putting him in a catagory of people they just hate. This is why the is no intelligent conversation in the media or politics, they pander to the lowest common denominator.

    December 27, 2010 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  19. unretired05

    At the heart of all satire is truth.

    December 27, 2010 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  20. scotty

    LOL! Stewart is a comedian with liberal tendencies. He's nothing more. He's even funny sometimes. But to liken him to a journalist is silly, and shows just how out of touch a large swath of Americans are about what constitutes journalism and facts.

    December 27, 2010 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  21. adrifter

    A person's opinion of Jon Stewart is going to be influenced by that person's politics. I mostly agree with him, but I can see where he would drive right wingers crazy. Just like Glenn Beck drives me crazy. However, anybody should be able to see that Jon Stewart's focus on the 911 first responders was driven by a deep sense that they were being treated unfairly. His anger over the stituation was obvious. The panel with the four first responders who are all suffering from cancer was rivieting and put a humoan face on the issue. Comedian or not, I say well done Jon Stewart.

    December 27, 2010 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  22. Lynne

    I don't think Jon Stewart thinks of himself as anything remotely resembling a journalist. I do think he considers himself a New Yorker! If any of you saw his show right after 9/11 you will remember how terribly he was impacted by what happened. What I saw on his show with the first responders was a true New Yorker being Pissed off about politicians playing politics. They have all been playing the other side of the political game with 9/11when it helped them, and then now they were doing it and screwing over the people they have been holding up for all these years.

    I think he was pissed off and wanted to get them to pull their heads out of their b*tts.

    I notice there is no bit article on here about the guy on Fox that held a Republican up to the light...a Republican from Oklahoma, that was part of the hold up. He kept saying the guys name over and over and over know a lot of Fox views were hot on that politicians tail!!!!!!!!

    December 27, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |