The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

TNR: Demanding integrity from the nation's comedians

Whew. There's been some real doo-doo printed by TNR over the last year (and some good stuff, of course), but this is just pitiful. At least it didn't make the print version.

Ever since Jon Stewart's legendary appearance on Tucker Carlson's Crossfire, there seem to have been two promminent interpretations. The first is that Stewart gave the talking head 'news' shows so ubuquitous on cable a richly-deserved shaming. The second is that Stewart is a grandstanding publicity hound who's unfairly trying to de-legitimize the press, and that he's just hiding behind the comedian label. I'm in the first camp, just so you know.

I didn't really get the second idea-- I admit it-- and I really still don't. It seems like missing the forest for the trees on the part of his critics. Take the author's argument that Stewart is obliged to take his position more seriously, andadhere to rigorous journalistic standards. Especially when a guest like Rick Santorum appears on the show.

Stewart would probably say in his defense, as he did on "Crossfire," that "The Daily Show" is a comedy show, not a news show. But what about the above exchange is humorous? Stewart, by all appearances, is trying to ask serious questions.

So, because the interview segment wasn't intentionally comedic, the show doesn't qualify as a comedy? Hey, I think Bill O'Reilly is hilarious-- but he still bills his as a news show. What gives?

Here's what I consider to be the gist of Stewart's argument that The Daily Show shouldn't be held to some elevated standard of journalism: because the endless stream of ostensibly serious reporting that appears on the 24/7 cable channels, that appears in the pages of the nation's newspapers, that appears on countless websites, is trash. The very fact that people feel obliged to chastise a show on Comedy Central for not being more 'newsy' demonstrates the sorry shape of the press. The author laments that Rick Santorum could have finally gotten the grilling he deserves over his extremist views. But that begs the question-- why hasn't Santorum been given that grilling in any other forum anywhere at any time. Simple. Because the mainstream press isn't doing its job.

The sick irony of it all is this: were Stewart the kind of guy who is intent on asking politicos the tough questions and sharing that information with America, he wouldn't have a show on Comedy Central. He'd be in the press corps. And yet, the press corps isn't doing that, either. Shouldn't critics of Stewart first ask themselves why they haven't seen those tough questions from people who actually bill themselves as serious journalists?