Master of Satire We'll Miss Jon Stewart More Than Brian Williams, Conventional Reader of News

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 13, 2015 | Go to article overview

Master of Satire We'll Miss Jon Stewart More Than Brian Williams, Conventional Reader of News


It was only minutes into an interview with Jon Stewart before a screening of his film, "Rosewater," last November when I knew he would never fully return to "The Daily Show." Working on that heartfelt and effective movie about an Iranian journalist who was imprisoned by the regime for 118 days made the comedian wax poetic about how lasting and indelible film was compared to a television show.

He was explicit about his change in attitude in his surprise announcement Tuesday that he'd be leaving the show. "What is this fluid," he said, pointing to his eyes. "What are these feelings," he said pounding the desk. He then confirmed what he had hinted at a few months earlier. "This show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host."

There had been signs. He had become a factory of satire and social commentary, attracting and developing talent that often bid fair to surpass the master. John Oliver has taken uncovering the truth into new territory, rooting out corruption in places as varied as the Miss America pageant and for-profit schools that exploit veterans. Stephen Colbert did such a job unspinning phony spin with truthiness that he is taking over for David Letterman this year. Another "Daily Show" alum, Larry Wilmore, has made a promising beginning with his "Nightly Show."

Mr. Stewart got his start in 1999 and an ocean of material was soon lapping at his shore - wild conventions, the 2000 recount that gave him the "Indecision 2000" trope, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, two endless wars and a global financial meltdown. He mined every last bit and soon was a public figure of such standing that he was twice invited to host the Oscars. How could he give it all up?

Maybe after 17 years he felt that he just couldn't face the void of another election. He made exposing mealy-mouthed politicians look like shooting fish in a barrel. Maybe the sight of all those dead fish became too much to look at.

What's certain is that Mr. Stewart's departure will have a greater impact on the American public's news literacy than the suspension of Brian Williams from "NBC Nightly News."

Mr. Williams is a newsreader of the conventional wisdom, albeit one with 8.43 million viewers. Mr. Stewart's four-nights-a-week skewering gets an average of 1.3 million viewers, but these are in the coveted 18-to-29 demographic. When the Pew Research Center asked four questions to measure knowledge of political news and current events, "Daily Show" viewers did significantly better than network news viewers.

The comedian's segment on the Williams debacle was Mr. Stewart- in-full. First came criticism of Mr. Williams's fictional brush with combat-zone danger, then the human sympathy for the humiliated anchor - a sharp contrast to the joy so many rivals seem to take in his fall. …

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