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[personal profile] defrog
Well sure, how many times can he retire from The Daily Show?

You’ll be reading tons of dissections about him and his work at TDS and subsequent legacy over the next few days. Most will be favorable. Some will not be. Certainly no one at Fox News or CNBC is sorry to see him go.

You’ll also see a lot of digital ink about his final “bullshit is everywhere” speech. Other people may say what I’m about to say, but I’ll type it here since I got a blog to run here:

The real importance of that speech is that Stewart basically summed up the TDS mission statement and the reason for the format’s success.

That’s important to me because everyone makes hay about Stewart having more credibility than “real” journalists, which may be true. But a lot of people also make the mistake of equating what he did to actual journalism.

It never was. The objective of Stewart’s TDS – apart from topical comedy – was never to report news, but to ridicule the cable TV news format in order to demonstrate how badly “real” TV journalism was failing us at a time when we really needed it to serve as the Fourth Estate in the system of checks and balances it was intended to be.

Consider: most of the US govt's post-9/11 activities – Afghanistan, Iraq, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding, throwing Muslims off airplanes for being scary to white people, etc and so on – went more or less unquestioned by the mainstream broadcast media for quite some time. It took a comedy show to point out the dangerous absurdity of neocon government policy combined with an increasingly irresponsible Wall Street and a complacent (or in the case of Fox News, collaborative) media.

And TDS was so good at it that Stewart ended up having more credibility than the cable TV outlets he was ranting at, at least for his audience. That wasn’t a comment on his journo cred so much as it was a comment on how bad “real” broadcast journalism had become.

Which I think is why a lot of people have come to misunderstand what TDS was all about. That perceived credibility annoyed and worried conservatives who branded TDS as an exclusively liberal propaganda machine (which of course is a fairly easy claim to debunk). Meanwhile, liberals embraced Stewart as Chief Truthteller – except for the hardcore ones who felt Stewart wasn’t using his position to take down the real villains of the Bush/Cheney years and ensuring the destruction of the GOP.

He didn’t do that for a reason: it was never Stewart’s job (or intention) to spend his time settling the Left’s political scores. The primary goal of TDS was to make fun of broadcast media and how politicians in power use the poor state of TV journalism to their advantage.

Put another way, the basic mission of Stewart’s tenure at TDS was bullshit detection, with its sights set primarily on the Powers That Be. During the Bush/Cheney years, that meant Republicans and Fox News were going to be the primary targets. That’s not an agenda – that’s how political comedy works: yr targets are whoever is in charge at the time.

In that sense, Stewart’s success really has been a classic case of right place, right time. His take on TDS probably wouldn't have become what it did if Al Gore was POTUS and 9/11 never happened. Or maybe it would have. But let’s admit that Bush, Cheney and Fox gave Stewart a wealth of material to work with.

Anyway, it’s interesting that many people’s opinions on Stewart and TDS are based more on what they wanted TDS to be than what it actually is. Stewart never claimed to be a journalist, but people on both sides wanted to peg him as one for their own reasons. The Right wanted to brand him a journalist so they could hold him to journalism standards of objectivity (and thus go around claiming he was biased in favor of liberals as though (1) this actually mattered and (2) it wasn’t hypocritical coming from people who watch Fox News). The Left branded him a journalist because he was doing what they felt the “real” media ought to be doing: namely, calling the Bush/Cheney admin (and other politicians, as long as they were Republicans) on their bullshit.

What’s interesting, though, is that while TDS wasn’t journalism, its success has arguably reshaped his audience’s expectations of “real” TV journalism. Old People like me have always assumed that politicians lie to us constantly, and that broadcast media was generally failing to call them out on this (print media was another matter, but most people still get their news mainly from TV). For a lot of younger people, TDS was a revelation of sorts to the point that they felt TDS was the only “news” show telling them some kind of truth.

Result: they now expect “real” TV news to do the same – and with the same level of anger Stewart and his audience felt.

Is that “real” journalism? Maybe it is now. We had similar discussions ages ago when Hunter Thompson, Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe were defying the traditional rules of journalism. And in an age where people think Addicting Info and Newsmax count as journalism, maybe objective journalism really is dead now, and all “real” reporters will be angry partisan hacks out to settle scores.

I’d hate to think that’s the case. But I am old and decrepit and set in my ways. Which means I don’t happen to think one side of the sociopolitical spectrum has a monopoly on “The Truth”, and no responsible media outlet (blogs included) should pretend otherwise.

Still, Stewart did helpfully give us one last piece of worthwhile advice: “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. If you smell something, say something.”

That doesn’t just apply to Fox News, iTunes user agreements or Wall Street bankers. It could also apply to hyperpartisan blogs or those stupid Facebook memes everyone keeps circulating no matter how many times Snopes debunks them.

Stewart has had a great run with his TDS bullshit detection service, and his influence cannot be understated (though it can certainly be overstated). I can’t say it’s made a huge difference in terms of forcing TV news to up its game, or helping to repair the Batshit Reality Schism we currently live in, but at least he helped some people see the absurdity of it all.

Respect.

Meanwhile, I have no idea who Trevor Noah is, but I wish him the best of luck. It's good to know he won't be trying to copy Stewart's schtick. It will be interesting to see how many TDS fans hold that against him.

Yr moment of zen,

This is dF


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