Jon Stewart is doing it again 16

I was going to write about Jon Stewart criticizing other TV personalities for not doing their job properly while defending himself for similar attacks by hiding behind the “I am just an entertainer” feather boa. I was but my friend Richard Wright beat me to it and did a fine job of it.

Jon Stewart tries to have it both ways (or) court-jester turned cheerleader-clown at Live the Trinity.

[Jon Stewart] is trying to have it both ways as usual. “Put entertainment over journalism”. Excuse me – are we to understand that Jon Stewart is a journalist? That the purpose of “The Daily Show” is journalism? (And in what sense is Jim Cramer trying to be a journalist whatever that means in this context?)

When “The Daily Show” rips quotes out of context in order to make fun of someone… is that not putting entertainment over journalism? So when we accuse “The Daily Show” of dishonesty or bias or misrepresenting those they satirize can they reply “oh come on we’re just entertainers”? On exactly what basis does Jon Stewart have the moral and intellectual authority to “hammer” people for putting “entertainment above journalism”?

Read the whole thing. It is worth it (and not just because he sites my prior critique of Stewart on this exact same subject). I have no interest in Jim Cramer’s program, I could never bear more than a few minutes of it, but if it is taken off the air purely because of Stewart it will be a shame.


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16 thoughts on “Jon Stewart is doing it again

  • Ryan

    Dean Brady-

    I have to disagree with you (and Mr. Wright) on the stance that Mr. Stewart wants to “have his cake and eat it too” in regards to entertainment vs. journalism. It’s one thing to criticize other people of their media responsibility and then turn around, take quotes out of context, doctor videos and in general report dishonestly. However, I’ve never really found that that was Stewart’s game. I’ve never found in going back and watching the full clips he refers to in the show that the subjects of his jokes are misrepresented. Not only that, but Stewart acts as a watchdog of reporters whose job it is to accurately report facts and events the layperson doesn’t have access to. It’s much easier for a reporter to skew or manipulate the news when they have press clearance than it is for someone like John Stewart to misrepresent media that is already available to everyone.

    Not only that, but the Jim Cramer interview was available online, totally unedited – a degree of transparency not often afforded to us by other news outlets.

    However, I do respect your opinion and see credence in it, I just think Stewart is coming from a different place. Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoy your blog and I think your use of social media in the academia is admirable!

  • RD Huff

    I would have to say that I also respectfully disagree with you and Mr. Wright’s assessment of what took place when Jim Cramer appeared on The Daily Show. Yes, Jon Stewart acted in an overtly pompous manner, but I feel that his criticisms of Cramer (who I am actually a big fan of…he is brilliant) and CNBC are not unfounded.

    CNBC bills itself as a source of “Fast, Accurate, Actionable, Unbiased” information that people can turn to for guidance on how they should invest. It is the responsibility of CNBC not merely to regurgitate the data handed to them by treasury officials and CFOs, but to act as the financial journalists that they market themselves as. For years, the financial news industry has presented investing almost with a “set it and forget it attitude,” referring viewers to the record growth of the past and promising them quick cash for little input. Even as storm clouds were brewing on the horizon, CNBC continued to act as though it were a fine day for fishing, luring viewers onto the markets with possibilities that they could make the next big catch.

    Further, while I disagree with Stewart’s actions in turning his comedy program into a witch-hunt, I think that criticism of Stewart’s ability to hide behind the curtain of entertainment is unjustified. Jon Stewart is an entertainer who calls what he does comedy; the individuals on CNBC are entertainers who call what they do news. Not just any news though—financial news; something that people act upon. CNBC commentators must realize that their words have more significant repercussions than those of their Political/World News counterparts. When Jim Cramer says something about a stock on his show, it mobilizes viewers. Even those who do not have the slightest idea who Jim Cramer is are affected by his words. So when he makes a stock call on faulty information and then recants it on the air two nights and $300 million later, it matters.

    When it comes down to it, people’s lives are affected- a fact that gets lost in the desire to fill 17 hours per day with programming that will provide maximum ad revenue.

  • Chris Brady Post author

    Ryan and Dan – thank you both for your comments. As a note, Rick (Dr. Wright, in fact) and I have been friends since college, we were both undergraduates at Cornell and Rick stayed on to do his doctorate in Near Eastern Studies and taught be biblical Hebrew.

    Now, to your comments. I would like to suggest you read my earlier post “What is wrong with America?” That post more concisely states my frustration with Stewart than the snippet above. In short, it is all about genre.

    In the case of Crossfire and Mad Money, yes they are shows on news channels BUT they never pretend to be anything they are not. In other words, neither shows are (were in the case of Crossfire, which was canceled shortly after Stewart’s lampooning) investigative or news reporting. Instead, Crossfire was a debate program. So when Stewart got indignant that all they did on Crossfire was debate he was stating the obvious not offering some penetrating critique.

    Same for Mad Money, as Cramer said in the piece, his show is primarily entertainment. In his case, he did offer investment advice and in one case, notoriously wrong investment advice (Bear Stearns), so some criticism is warranted and Cramer accepted it and took responsibility. But again, his show is NOT an investigative show nor a solid news program, it never pretended to be and should not be judged as such.

    Stewart, on the other hand, when criticized that he could be harder on those he interviews, for example (see the Crossfire episode), says “we are not a news program, we go on after puppets making crank calls!” That is fair enough, his show is entertainment (Ryan, btw, Stewart has indeed taken many, many snippets out of context and twisted them or edited a series together to make a humorous point that is irrelevant when in context) and I do not expect him to be hard hitting or particularly insightful. The irony is that he doesn’t realize that THEIR shows are just as much entertainment and just as much NOT “news” as his. Sure, they are on a news network, but the network has lots of different kids of programming. Stewart’s criticisms would have been fair if the Nightly News on NBC (or any of the straight news programs on the cable news channels), for example, were doing nothing more than having debates and bells and whistles (and throwing things). But those programs, flawed as they are, are still covering basic news and so do not come in for lampooning.

    The biggest irony is that Stewart has, in fact, made his program into a news program with tough interviews, BUT (and here is the criticism of Tucker Carlson) he is selective as to when and with whom he is tough. Whereas MSNBC and CNN, a news network, have made some of their programs into entertainment, Stewart, on Comedy Central, has taken an entertainment program and moved it into the news arena. And he loves his ability to make and be news.

    Finally, I like the Daily Show very much. I simply don’t like pompous hypocrisy.

    • Joe Weaks

      Respectfully, this critique is simply absurd and off-base. Stewart is a social satirist, and especially focuses on the media society. And he is VERY good (and very smart). When he calls a duck a duck, and does so with skill and knowledge, no amount of disliking his so-called pompous attitude or any other ad hominem focus negates the worth of what he has done.
      Of course it’s ironic. You would do well not to confuse a hypocrite with a satirist. A satirist doesn’t play on some imaginary ‘equal playing field’ that you seem to pine for. And as a satirist, he both makes you laugh, and makes profound points, sometimes points that can only make you laugh lest you cry. One stream of comedy has always been a powerful purveyor of truth (bits of a Chris Rock HBO special come to mind).
      The Crossfire episode has real connection with the CNBC happening, in that in both cases Stewart is criticizing the for-profit endeavor of making a game out of that which wounds the people when of a game it is made, be it the process for getting at ideological truths or the [mis-]representation of a financial endeavor.

      • Chris Brady Post author

        Joe – with all due respect, you have grossly misunderstood me. First of all, I am not engaging in ad hominem attacks, I am critiquing Stewart on what he is doing and what he purports to be doing. My reference to his attitude (if the “pompous” remark is what you allude to) was merely a final comment and insubstantial to my other remarks.

        Secondly, I of course understand satire and that this is what Stewart seeks to engage in during the body of his show. Note, however, that I have never critiqued the Daily Show as being hypocritical and have commented many times that I like it very much. It is Stewart’s critique of others that I am taking issue with. My “pining” for an equal playing field is only when Stewart pretends to want one, when we says “let’s be real for a moment,” and tries to address the short comings of others. Furthermore, Stewart is trying to create a equal field between “Mad Money” and the Nightly News, when there is none. He argument is that since those shows are on news networks they must be hard hitting and investigative news programs. That is simply not the case, the networks vary their programming, just as any other, and while these programs are more serious than a sitcom or a variety show, they are patently not the nine o’clock news and should not be evaluated as such.

        Again, the distinction I believe you missed in my comments is that I am not criticizing the Daily Show (for example, the piece he put together about all the cable news financial shows the week before last, I have no problems with that) but rather Stewart’s attempts to judge the value of another program. Remember, the Crossfire episode was actually Stewart on the CNN show, not a piece done on the Daily Show. That is not to say that the shows donate warrant criticism, but the nature of his criticism (that they are not being “true” to their mission) is ill founded (their mission is to inform in an entertaining way) in this instance.

        Again, issue is that Stewart is the one trying to create a “level playing” field by considering something like Crossfire as the same as 60 Minutes or the evening newscast. Again, it is all about genre and Stewart wants to claim special protection for his work while not understanding the work of others. So what he is calling a “duck” is in fact a completely different bird, a waterfowl, sure, but not a duck.

        Finally, you comment, “Stewart is criticizing the for-profit endeavor of making a game out of that which wounds the people when of a game it is made, be it the process for getting at ideological truths or the [mis-]representation of a financial endeavor.”

        How is that any different than what the Daily Show is doing? If anyone is making a game of the news and all the important topics of which it is composed, it is the Daily Show and they are certainly doing it for-profit. Stewart and the Daily Show have actually ended other shows, if not careers, with their satirical pieces and Stewart’s crusades.

        Once more, for all those following the thread:
        1) I like the Daily Show very much and find it very funny. I also think such shows are an important part of a society. (And the British do this better than the US, although “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” is pretty good too.)
        2) I generally like Jon Stewart as well.
        3) Shows like Crossfire, Mad Money, Hardball, and (especially) Olberman’s Countdown are not exempt from critique, far from it! (But, BTW, why hasn’t Stewart ripped into Olberman or Madow’s programs? They have some serious credibility issues too.)
        4) I simply find Stewart’s critiques disingenuous.

  • Steve (Brady)

    I think the issue here is “Shame on us.”

    The problem seems to be that TDS is where (according to surveys) most college age and 20 something adults go for their news. They may, or may not, be able to discern between satire, comedy, hypocrisy and news. But honestly, when people like Ryan honestly, and fervently, believe that Jon Stewart has never twisted, mis-represented, or biased a story in the interest of humor, then we have a serious problem.

    Unlike my brother, I don’t like TDS. And I don’t like it for the reason you all seem to point to–he makes a game of something serious, and fails miserably at reporting on (or at least lampooning) both sides.

    In an ideal world, we would see Jon Stewart on a different show and see him talking about news, and say “ahh, he is trying to be funny again–nothing newsie to get here… move along…” BUT somehow each time he seems to actually be treated as someone with a sober, insightful perspective.

    So, I say shame on us. Shame on America for letting this line of thinking poison the well of debate and discussion.

    And shame on us for letting him influence the thoughts and attitudes of what many believe was the pivotal group in this last election.

    And–since I realize what I just wrote is intended to be inflammatory, let me help aim your flame-throwers… I am not saying that the election was (necessarily) wrong in its outcome, but rather than the electorate was misled into thinking they were an informed one.

    • Ryan

      With all due respect, I don’t believe I claimed to “fervently” and blindly follow everything that comes out of John Stewart’s mouth. I’m no rube – I think every media outlet has its own agenda, The Daily Show’s is apparent, and I would certainly never say that TDS is exempt from any sort of media criticism.

      The point I was trying to make in response to Dean Brady’s is that while shows like Cramer’s “Mad Money” are meant to be “entertainment-news” programs rather than straight-up journalistic endeavors, it’s important for them to make sure the “entertainment” part of the equation doesn’t interfere with the integrity of the show. It’s one thing for the Daily Show to have a semi-apparent news bias mixed with their entertainment approach. It’s another for a show like Mad Money to sell itself as news (which, I would argue, it absolutely does – CNBC may have varied programming, but “entertainment” should not be part of it, and perhaps that is best left for a different blog post 🙂 ), then fail to report on issues (such as crooked lending or trading practices) that have the potential to seriously disrupt a viewer’s financial well-being, and then say “well you shouldn’t have listened to us, we’re just entertainment!”

      If anything, I think we can agree that BOTH shows would like to hind behind the “entertainment” facade and make snarky comments until criticized, only to respond with “but we’re an entertainment show!” and be absolved of any responsibility. I think that because they are held in such high regard on such a powerful, wide-reaching medium, both shows need to accept some responsibility that both (and, one could argue, many cable news shows) have perhaps not been perfect in upholding.

      In short: Dean Brady said he just didn’t care for John Stewart’s pompous hypocrisy, and I’m arguing that it has exited in shows like Mad Money for just as long, if not longer. I’m also NOT arguing, for clarification, that this makes the Stewart approach “right”.

  • Larry Swain

    Everyone is being so nice. A couple of points though:

    1) Crossfire was not canceled after Stewart lampooned it. It was canceled after Stewart appeared on the show and called them on the carpet to their faces for being partisan hacks and disingenuous, and those facts were hurting us, the electorate. CNN quickly realized he was right and pulled the plug.

    2) CSNBC describes itself as a NEWS organization specializing in business news, up to the second market coverage and business information. Jim Cramer may claim that he’s mostly entertainment, but that’s a lie. His website explicitly says that he guides the viewer/callers through “the confusing jungle of investing, navigating through both opportunities and pitfalls with one goal in mind — to help you make money.” I’m sorry, that’s not entertainment; and he does give advice: not just once in a while, but EVERY SINGLE TIME HIS SHOW AIRS HE ADVISES ON WHAT STOCKS TO SELL, TO BUY, TO HOLD! There’s an entire segment in EVERY SHOW dedicated to this dispensing of advice. The delivery may be entertaining, but the content is not entertainment. So how should a program that bills itself as having insight on stocks and investing on a network that bills itself as a network for business, market and investing *news* not be judged as *news*? That’s like saying you as an academic shouldn’t be measured by academic standards cause you’re entertaining in class. Cramer himself is a journalist, among other hats. He was editor and wrote for the Harvard Crimson, then the Tallahassee Democrat and the LA Herald Examiner, and is a co-founder of the American Lawyer, a self-described journal of *NEWS* for lawyers. SO let’s see, we have a chap with journalist credentials who reports on business and stock news and offers advice based on that reporting, on a network touting itself as a news source specializing in stocks, investment, and business. Please, explain again why Cramer is not a journalist or not to be held to a standard like the 9 o’clock news? He has better journalistic credentials than most local newscasters! So, respectfully, I submit that Cramer the journalist working on a news network with a program that reports and analyzes sector of the news is in fact doing the news. If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well, chances are….

    3) The difference between Stewart and Cramer and the like is that Stewart is up front: he deals mostly in satire and lampooning, its what they do. He doesn’t offer advice on how to invest your money, or so-called in depth commentary on the days events. They are worlds apart. Stewart does not offer advice: the joke is important. They bill themselves as fake news, they’re on a network that is about entertainment—and entertainment to make you laugh and poke fun. Cramer is telling you the days events and giving authoritative advice on how to act–and withholding information while doing so! Whatever Stewart’s faults, hypocrisy is not among them.

    4) He actually has made fun of Olberman. He has interviewed Maddows, but I don’t recall that he’s made fun of her yet.

    • Chris Brady Post author

      Thanks Larry!

      1) Yes, it was after Stewart was on the show, as I pointed out. I never really liked Crossfire (in fact, as I have said, I don’t like either Crossfire or Mad Money) but all…well I won’t rehash the Crossfire thing, you can read my other post from two years ago about that. Stewart wasn’t saying anything we didn’t know and the show was always about partisan hacks hacking each other.

      2) Cramer’s statements (when allowed to make them) in Stewart’s full interview were pretty fair and Stewart actually often said it wasn’t about Cramer or his show but the network. Cramer’s show is about giving advice and he got some wrong, as did all financial advisors, but it is not an investigative show, that is the difference. Stewart’s ire is misdirected.

      3) Sort of. He certainly is not any less partisan that Crossfire was and often is misleading with their pieces. When others complain their defense is “we’re entertainment!” That goes back to Joe’s comment and I agree with him that this is the nature of satire and I don’t mind that. I just think Stewart ought to acknowledge the limited nature of other shows, not just his own.

      4) True! He did a great piece on Olberman and Matthews fighting (and Scarborough) during the election. Let’s see where they go from here…

  • Richard Wright

    Thanks for the comments all of which are high quality even if/when I disagree. I think for the most part we have said what we want to say. Hopefully brief additions:

    1) I am not sure it is quite right to say “Mad Money” (to pick on Jim Cramer) is news or entertainment. One or the other as if those are the only choices and never overlap. I do not think “Mad Money” is entertainment (so I might be disagreeing just a tad with Chris). It is about finance and financial advice – but packaged in a way to be entertaining and engaging. Which is to say neither is it “investigative news” (disagreeing with those who say CNBC is not allowed to critique a president’s handling of the economy because they failed to uncover “corporate deceit” as if anyone else succeeded).

    2) Chris has been far kinder and even-handed than I am. He says he still likes Stewart and “The Daily Show”. I do not. I used to watch it and enjoy it. But not after 2008. I do expect “news satire” still to be somewhat fair/balanced/accurate in how it presents the news – even while it takes that as the basis for humor and satire. Studies show that many young Americans get their news from “The Daily Show” (they take it seriously along with the humor) and surely Stewart knows this else he would not engage in this sort of seriousness.

    3) I do think much of this has to do with politics – not “news versus entertainment”. When in the past has Jon Stewart ever given a flip about CNBC? It is painfully clear that he turned his guns on them for one and only one precipitating reason.

    4) I admit to some curiosity as to why some defend Stewart so passionately. Which is fine of course and people have done so well and intelligently. But Chris and I clearly pushed a button here (rightly or wrongly). What button did we push?

  • Larry Swain

    Hi Chris,

    This is more interesting than correcting papers. But….

    In my 1) I was reacting to your characterization that Crossfire was canceled after Stewart lampooned them. That isn’t true. It was canceled after Stewart appeared on the show and didn’t lampoon them, but said some things that were very perceptive: and I think he went beyond just “you’re partisan hacks” to “your show is poisoning the well, and not because its partisan hacks”. I think you’ve overlooked that.

    2) If Stewart’s ire is aimed principally CNBC (and it is, we agree), then letting CNBC off as “entertainment” is mighty disingenuous of you. Its a news channel, it has a responsibility to report what it knows…and even CRAMER said that he knew stuff was going on and didn’t report it on air. So I strongly disagree that Stewart’s ire is misdirected there: its absolutely in the right place, just that CNBC isn’t alone.

    Re: Cramer, Cramer’s a part of CNBC, at least on Mad Money. So if he knows something then he’s responsible when he tells people that Bear Stearns is strong and hold on to it and then have it go belly up 5 days later. Did Cramer simply get it wrong? Or was he duplicitous? We’ll never know, but he’s an insider. Keep that in mind.

    More importantly though, Cramer was barely mentioned in the original Stewart broadcast. Cramer didn’t become the focus until Cramer complained that he was misquoted and things were taken out of context. Stewart took that on: Cramer was caught saying things he denied saying. And that is properly directed ire in my book.

    3) In part I think you’ve misunderstood my point, due no doubt to my lack of expression. Stewart is up front: he labels himself a fake news show, a fake journalist, a comedian. His principal aim is to entertain. Crossfire and Mad Money can’t claim to be entertainment when what they actually state they are is news analysts and their aim is to inform and in Cramer’s case advise. So sorry, but if you claim to inform and advise, it seems to me to be disingenuous to then relabel and claim to be “entertainment” when mistakes are pointed out. If Cramer along with CNBC want to be “business news” and analysts of that news, then claims of entertainment and failing to report things they know is true is dangerous and they bear responsibility for that failure.

    Stewart is partisan; no question he makes more fun of conservatives than liberals, esp. when taking on cable news channels. But then, Coulter, O’Reilly, Carlson and the like leave themselves open to such lampooning. But so what? O’Reilly and Carlson and Coulter are partisan too, but why aren’t you taking them to task for not recognizing the limits of Stewart’s show? Interesting, no?

    BTW, I don’t watch Cramer, but I have to say that I think he handled the interview well and sheesh, he’s one smart cookie.

    Re: Olberman, there was more than one, actually, and he made snarky remarks when he David Gregory on too.

    Anyway……good discussion

    Oh, and re: your brother’s point: I’ve often heard from people about how for a certain demographic there main news source is The Daily Show. But then they’re missing half the humor: half the jokes require one to know something more about the subject than The Daily Show “reports”. At least in my view….

    • Chris Brady Post author

      Larry – just on the point about Crossfire, I did indeed understand the order of events and chronicled them in my post from August 2007. To be honest, my argument and my own ire is much more directed at Stewart’s handling of that situation and my accusation of hypocrisy is primarily directed to that incident (series thereof).

      In that case, Stewart did, of course, argue that they were poisoning the well, but refused to acknowledge that he too was “poisoning the well.” Yes, his show is clearly labeled satire, on a comedy network, etc. but he has done as much, and I think most would acknowledge more since he has a far wider audience, to direct people’s views about politics and politicians than Crossfire ever did.

      The studies that Rick and Steve point to are evidence to the wide influence he and his show have. I think it is a reasonable question, as Dan asks, to consider what ethical responsibility Stewart has given the tremendous influence he wields. It is directly akin to Hollywood folks who insist that what they do in movies doesn’t influence the public and yet the corporations betray that lie when they pay millions for product placement in those same movies.

      The Daily Show is one of the most influential shows on television today (why else did all those candidates make an appearance over the last 10 years?). It is reasonable to ask if Stewart and his team are being good stewards of that influence.

  • RD Huff

    I have really enjoyed reading this thread primarily because everyone holds such strong opinions about the matter, but also because it presents several fascinating questions about the ethical responsibility that news networks and entertainers have. For instance, to what extent does a journalist have an ethical responsibility to “get the story right,” and how does that responsibility relate to non-journalists who provide news, commentary, or advice? Even though Stewart refuses to call himself a journalist, should he be held to the same standards as one?

    I would still argue that there is a substantial difference between the roles of Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer and that they therefore have very different moral obligations to the viewer. Jon Stewart presents himself as a comedian on a fake news program, and in doing frees himself from many of the ethical hurdles journalists must leap through. His program expects that viewers will disagree with his opinions because they know that the show is highly subjective. On the other hand, Jim Cramer presents himself as an expert giving people advice based on quantitative analysis, and therefore, his responsibility to provide the audience with accurate, unbiased information is greater. If he is a journalist, as another poster suggested, than he has more of a moral obligation to act according to journalistic principles… to perform thorough fact checking and view all information through an objective lens.

    But then again, who is to say that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are not representations of a new iteration of the news where satire becomes more important than content. Much like the birth of New Journalism and its subjective viewpoint did during the 1960s and 70s, Fake News is forcing even the major networks to reconsider how they present themselves. I am curious if, in his ability to influence so many people, Stewart has assumed some sort of new role of journalist-social commentator, even if it is a role that he rejects.