Tuesday night, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” proved once more its excellence in journalism. In an interview with Democratic Presidential Nominee John Kerry, Stewart asked questions that made similar interviews Kerry has given to “real” news shows on networks like CNN or NBC’s Meet the Press pale in comparison. What was a testament to Stewart’s skill also was a demonstration of the shortcomings “real” news programs exhibit.
The format of a comedy show (or, as Stewart refers to it, “fake news”) has morphed into a respected venue over the last year. Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards announced his bid for the presidential ticket on the show last year. The show has also featured such guests as former president Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie and countless other political heavyweights.
Admittedly, the show has a liberal bias, but at least it does not pretend to be “fair and balanced” like other media outlets. Republican papers such as The New York Post have called Stewart “the ‘it’ boy” of the 2004 campaign. Not bad for a show that can be found “at the end of your dial,” as Stewart often jokes.
But why does the American public have to rely on a comedy show to ask Kerry such questions as, “Please refute: Are you, or have you ever, flip-flopped?” He also asked Albright “why do they hate us? Is it because we keep bombing them?” when she came on his show to talk about a study on what Middle Easterners think of the United States.
The networks seem to be more intent to deliver content quickly in their efforts to grab ratings than to make sure the news is accurate. In a recent example that also had to do with the “swift boat controversy” that Stewart fittingly summed up by saying, “I watch a lot of the cable news shows and I understand you were never in Vietnam?”
CNN let Bob Dole use “facts” in an interview that the people at CNN knew were wrong. Dole said Kerry had won two of the Purple Hearts that were awarded to him in Vietnam in one day. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer did not correct him while on the air and waited until after the show to do so.
It is no wonder that more and more college students tune in to the Daily Show not just for entertainment value but also to watch news coverage. If anything, this should be a wake-up call to traditional news programs that claim to deliver “real” news.