Satire as Journalism: The Daily Show and American Politics at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

Joe Hale Cutbirth
Notions of community and civic participation, and the role journalism plays in establishing, reinforcing or disrupting them, have been part of American life since the early days of the republic. Equally American, and closely connected with them, are the ideas that our public institutions and elected officials are appropriate targets for both journalistic scrutiny and comedic satire. Press and speech protections that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson wrote into the Constitution have served
more » ... on have served journalists and satirists - and those who work both camps, such as Ben Franklin, Mark Twain and H.L Mencken - during critical times in our history. Indeed, the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, public policy and popular culture, is not a new phenomenon. Yet, re cent concerns that journalism is being subsumed within the larger field of mass communication and competing with an increasingly diverse group of narratives that includes political satire are well-founded. Changes in media technology and acute economic uncertainty have hit traditional news outlets at a time when Americans clearly want a voice they can trust to challenge institutions they believe are failing them. And during the first decade of the twenty-first century, none has filled that role as uniquely as Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on the Comedy Central Network. When Time recently asked readers to identify "the most trusted newsperson in America," Stewart was the runaway winner. That matched an earlier survey by the Pew Center in which Stewart tied Brian Williams, Tom Browkaw, Dan Rather and Anderson Cooper as the journalist respondents most admire. Scholarly work on Stewart typically builds on surveys that show young adults get political information from his show (Pew, ANES). It also challenges his frequent claim that he is nothing more than a stand-up comedian peddling satire, and it argues that his shtick, which he calls "fake news," is actually a quasi-journalistic product. This study moves beyond those issues by reviving questions about [...]
doi:10.7916/d8w66sqc fatcat:ebodjjzf7zfjhbvwu4bwvoziq4