A News World Without Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart, the long-time star of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, shocked his audience yesterday by announcing that he would be leaving the show this year.  In a sign of just how important Stewart and The Daily Show are to modern America, his impending departure from what is, at bottom, a consistently funny comedy show was headline news at such diverse websites as the BBC and CNN Money.

Stewart has sat at the anchor desk of The Daily Show since 1999 — an extraordinarily long tenure in the modern world.  For many young adults, he’s been an immutable part of the social landscape for as long as they can remember.  With Stewart as the motivating force, The Daily Show has launched the careers of other comedy stars, like Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver, but more importantly it has become an essential cultural and political touchstone for a huge swath of the American population.  It is amazing, but true, that a large percentage of young Americans routinely get their exposure to news from The Daily Show and identify Stewart as more trusted to provide accurate information than networks like MSNBC.

Commentators may moan that such survey results are a sign of America’s illiteracy — and the growing irrelevance of broadcast and print journalism — but the reality is that people just get their news in different ways now.  Stewart and The Daily Show became trusted  because they mixed the humor with a healthy dollop of news footage, factoids, and actual interviews of Presidents, political and cultural figures, and world leaders.  And, although The Daily Show unquestionably came from a general liberal perspective, Stewart and his crew weren’t afraid to skewer racial politics, the disastrous roll-out of the healthcare.gov website, and other causes and developments on the left end of the political spectrum.

With Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert taking over for David Letterman, where will younger Americans turn to get their tolerable daily exposure to the world’s events?  There’s no guarantee that the new host will capture their confidence, and the risk is that they won’t turn to other sources for such information at all.  That should be a significant concern for those who have used The Daily Show to reach the Millennials.  If those Millennials (and members of the next generation, which hasn’t yet acquired a catchy title) who have some interest in politics and news aren’t watching The Daily Show, how do you engage them?  Jon Stewart’s replacement will have awfully big shoes to fill.

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Malala Yousafzai And The Power Of The Individual

You can’t help but be inspired by Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who resisted Taliban edicts that forbade girls from going to school. Now 16 years old, Yousafzai is a living, breathing example of the unique power of the individual to serve as an agent of change.

Yousafzai’s story reminds us of how different the world can be under repressive religious regimes.  When she started a blog and advocated for education for Muslim girls in defiance of the edicts, the Taliban issued a death threat against her.  Later a Taliban gunman attacked her on her school bus, and she was shot in the head and neck.  She survived, went to Great Britain for brain surgery, and continues to be a strong voice for education even in the face of renewed Taliban threats.

This past week Yousafzai made a whirlwind tour of the United States.  She met President Obama, the First Lady, and their 15-year-old daughter Malia, thanked him for the United States’ support of education, but also expressed the view that U.S. drone attacks are fueling terrorism.  Yousafzai also deeply impressed Jon Stewart and the audience of The Daily Show by her patient insistence that violence and cruelty can only be defeated by education and peaceful dialogue.

Some people thought Yousafzai might win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Instead the Prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  I have no doubt that the group, which has worked to eliminate chemical weapons, has performed important work — but no organization can ever have the impact of one individual standing resolute in the face of tyranny.  Malala Yousafzai has single-handedly focused attention on the need for education and the plight of girls and young women under the Taliban and, by extension, in other places where religious edicts and despotic governments have repressed their rights and freedoms.  We can only hope that her message and example will ultimately bring about essential social changes in the benighted regions of the world.

 

Beginning To Question The Dude

As we close in on Election Day, the professional punditry is talking a lot about President Obama.  They are arguing about whether it was smart for him to appear on The Daily Show, where he was called “dude” and his administration was the butt of gibes by Jon Stewart.  (Stewart’s reference to the President as “dude” made me laugh and think of Richard’s classic post, The Follies of Dudism.) They are speculating about whether he will “pivot” or “triangulate” or pull a Bill Clinton if the Republicans take over the House of Representatives.  They are questioning whether the President has lost the communications war and failed to explain the many “accomplishments” of his Administration to the American people.  John Kerry, for example, apparently thinks the American people are becoming a bunch of ignorant “know-nothings.”

Maureen Dowd’s column yesterday is along such lines.  She is starting to question the President and wondering when he is going to show the political deftness and communications skills he was hailed for in 2008.  You can see that some skepticism is beginning to creep in — she notes, for example, that the President will need to summon “political skills that he has not yet shown he has” — but she still speaks of the mysterious failure to convince the public of his “achievements.”  She suggests that he hasn’t used his “charm” as effectively as he could have and didn’t realize he needed to “sell” his ideas or respond to attacks, all of which has caused people to rush into the arms of “disturbingly inferior pols.”

I don’t remember President Obama being shy about talking to us about why he believed that the “health care reform” legislation was great, or how the “stimulus” legislation would be an engine for job creation, or why we needed to bail out GM and Chrysler and shield them from the consequences of decades of crappy products and poor business decisions.  I think there is a simpler explanation for the President’s current predicament:  the American people do understand what he has done and don’t really consider most of it to be an “achievement.”  And at some point, the punditry may come to recognize that, perhaps, President Obama is not quite the infinitely charming, brilliant, awesomely superior politician they still consider him to be.  They may look at his actual political record and realize that no master politician would have managed to take a sweeping electoral victory, huge majorities in both Houses of Congress, and the legitimate good wishes of a large majority of the American people and in two short years fritter it away to the point where the President’s party is on the brink of absorbing an historic defeat at the polls.

I think it will be good for both the President and the country when the public comes to realize that he is not some otherworldly figure.  He will be able to serve in his office unburdened by unattainable expectations.  The American people, on the other hand, will learn once again that we should not look to politicians for immediate salvation.