Say it ain’t so. Jon Stewart is leaving the Daily Show. America’s premier court jester who nightly speaks truth to power in a media landscape so shamelessly yet skillfully compromised that many consumers of “news” no longer question it, is outta here. Far from a Motley Fool, Stewart is considered one of America’s most trusted journalists, honest. He came on the scene in 2003 when our nation was pretty much being guilted into supporting the invasion of Iraq. Stewart immediately raised questions about the media frenzy that escorted the troops to Baghdad, and he’s still asking.
If not led, the charge to this ill fated encounter was fueled by America’s most influential popular media–trusted networks like NBC, and CNN, and up-and-comers like Fox News–who gulped down the Cool Aid called WMD and found a new and compelling way to create Breaking News, 24/7. In the post 911 world, it became easy to marginalize those who questioned the wisdom, the sanity of mounting a full scale invasion of Iraq without proof positive that their albeit dastardly leaders were complicit in the attacks on the Twin Towers and concealing weapons of mass destruction. I am told that despite evidence to the contrary, a substantial percentage of Americans still believe that this was true. Why not? They heard it on television.
I was kid when I sat with my Dad and watched Walter Cronkite report on the death of President Kennedy. This reporter was revered like a family elder. And while our Morning News and Evening Journal newspapers were THE sources of news and information in our house, this trusted network anchor was above reproach. Of course he was telling the truth, even if the broadcast sold toothpaste during the breaks.
So where is the truth to be found in reporting today, in this media fractured, instant information environment? It’s out there but it can take real work to find it. Consumers of news today must be media literate. In short, it means that you have to read or otherwise consume a LOT of sources in order to piece together the truth behind a story. The exception might be our local sources for radio and print news where the stakes aren’t so high and there is still incentive for good, factual reporting. Still, celebrity misconduct does manage to creep into the headlines of an awful lot of stories. Call it infotainment. It’s part of what lured a guy like Brian Williams off the rails.
More than ever, we need good, solid reporting, clear voices amidst the din of the Breaking News that is most often skim milk parading as cream. And we need to amp up the thoughtful editorial writing in all media from those truly willing to question authority–even if it’s the big money that owns the media group.
So bravo Jon Stewart for serving up the truth while making us laugh. It is infotainment but it’s thoughtful and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Maybe that’s the new model for informing those consumers of news who are increasingly turned off by gratuitous headlines designed to generate “clicks” and feed ratings. Bottom line? If you can’t be funny, can we just have the facts, please? We’ll likely find the truth there.