Stewart’s Faux America
The influence of fake news…
[Doug Gamble] 12/14/05
talk show king Johnny Carson used to say he could gauge the
political mood of the country by audience reaction to the jokes
in his monologues. And it was generally acknowledged that Carson
could affect a politician’s popularity by making him
the butt of jokes.
But to the
extent an entertainment figure can shape political opinion
in the U.S., it appears that Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The
Daily Show” has achieved new heights of influence. Not
only that, his popularity may reflect a growing trend of people
aged 18 to 25 away from traditional TV news sources and toward
the brand of cynical, faux news offered by Stewart.
Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan
and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]
time media influence similar to Stewart’s was
exerted was back in the 1960’s and 1970’s when longtime
CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite shaped opinions in his largely
adult audience. Knowing this, “The Daily Show” was
a must destination for Democratic candidates competing in the
2004 presidential primaries.
Comedy Central has signed Stewart through 2008, putting him
in a position to sculpt the perception of candidates in the next
presidential race where neither party will be nominating an incumbent.
So influential has the comedian’s show become, publishers are vying to
get their authors to sit across the desk from him. No other TV show has the
power to sell so many books, with the possible exception of “The Oprah
Winfrey Show.” The book “Freakonomics,” for example, did
not go through the roof until after its authors appeared with Stewart.
His own book, “America,” has sold 1.5 million copies. Ad revenue
for “The Daily Show” increased an astounding 100% through August
and the show’s audience as measured by Nielsen Media Research is up 20%
to 1.4 million this year.
Stewart’s sway even reached into a rival network earlier
this year and helped end a long-running program. Some media observers
believe his guest appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire,” where
he verbally demolished a sputtering co-host Tucker Carlson and
blamed the program’s tone for hurting America, contributed
to Carlson’s subsequent firing and the show’s later
demise. The show may already have been on the ropes, but Stewart
delivered a knockout punch.
at Stewart’s success, veteran L.A. entertainment
publicist and multi-book author Michael Levine calls the comedian’s
affect on the 18 to 25 generation, “Scary.” “He
has a perfect pitch for the times we live in, but I don’t
necessarily think that’s a good thing for America,” he
to Levine, Stewart is the right messenger at the right time
for a generation whose attitude can best
up by the word, “Whatever.” He believes it is a generation
devoid of attention span, not interested in nuance or serious
thought, and one with a cynical, satirical view of the world
matched by Stewart.
“It is easier to blame Bush and Cheney for your problems
than to take responsibility for your own role in them,” he
U.S. coming under increasing competition from countries like
China, whose younger generation is not
turning away from
intellectual endeavors, one has to wonder what Stewart’s
brand of dispensing “news” portends. If it is accurate
to say, “I have seen the future of TV news in America and
it is Jon Stewart,” then what is the future of America?
The difference between comedians such as Jay Leno and David
Letterman on one hand and Stewart on the other is that Leno and
Letterman do jokes on the news, and Stewart has sold a generation
on the idea that his jokes are the news. Not only would Edward
R. Murrow be aghast, but even Carson might shake his head at
erasing the line that separates the two. -one-
Doug Gamble contributed speech material to Presidents Reagan
and George H.W. Bush, writes occasional opinion columns
for the Orange County Register and is a senior contributor
totheOneRepublic / CaliforniaRepublic.org.
2005 Doug Gamble