Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Our most trusted source for TV news is leaving the airwaves

Jon Stewart is leaving the Daily Show...and America mourns the loss.

As I started writing this, the 835th most trusted figure in America got bumped from the air. That would be the just suspended, without pay (ouch!), NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who -- according to a new report -- had recently been the 23rd most trusted, before his reputation for telling the truth dropped faster than a Chinook helicopter taking RPG fire.

But trials and tribulations of Brian Williams is only one of two big media stories tonight. The other arguably more important one involves the man that at least in some surveys has been named the MOST trusted deliverer of the nightly news:

Jon Stewart, the comedian who turned Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" into a sharp-edged nightly commentary on news events, the people behind them and the media that reports (and sometimes misreports) them, said on Tuesday that he would step down from the program after more than 15 years as its anchor.

Mr. Stewart disclosed his plans to depart "The Daily Show" during a taping of the program on Tuesday. His announcement was confirmed by Comedy Central, which said in a statement that he would "remain at the helm of 'The Daily Show' until later this year."

If only Stewart was the one coming back in six months (not that I actually expect Brian Williams to come back in six months.) The fact that both men -- who are friends! -- turned their careers upside down just minutes apart, albeit under remarkably different circumstances, is a coincidence that even a satirist like Stewart might find too bizarre: A mainstream news anchor exposed as something of a puffed-up phony, and the much mourned loss of a "fake" new anchor who so often revealed the truth about a broken nation.

In the 10 years (yes, 10 years...this month!) that I've been writing Attytood, I've commented frequently on Stewart and "The Daily Show" -- occasionally in disappointment, like when his bizarre "Rally To Restore Sanity/Fear" with cohort Stephen Colbert in 2010 told voters to channel their need for social change into pointless irony. But more often I wrote with awe of how a comedian could speak truth to power while the alleged truth-tellers of the mainstream media sucked up to elites and helped spread their falsehoods.

Rather than re-invent the wheel (or re-invent the cliche, which I just did), here's what I wrote about Stewart in 2009 after his demolition of the horrific CEO-suck-up coverage by CNBC as it ignored the run-up to that era's financial meltdown. It was a broadcast that I still think stands as his high water mark...I wrote:

The American public is mad as hell right now, so why isn't the mainstream media? Balanced reporting is important, but a balanced, modulated tone of voice? Not now, not when millions are hurting from lost jobs and under-water mortgages, and many millions more are living in fear of the same fate. People need information but what they so desperately want an outlet that shares their passion -- and, yes, that rage -- and so Jon Stewart gave people what they weren't getting anywhere else.

The First Amendment doesn't say anything about not being funny, or not being passionate. I don't know about you, if you actually watched the piece, but I feel like I learned something important -- confirming the cheerleading nature of the nation's most-watched source for business news, even in a moment of oncoming disaster -- but I also busted my gut laughing as I did. And there's nothing wrong with that, informing and entertaining at the same time -- isn't that what  newspapers are charging people 75 cents for?.

You know, sometimes people do some crazy stuff when they realize their days are numbered. I don't have the answers to problems facing American journalism -- not my own newsroom, mired in Chapter 11, nor the others that face a possible death sentence. But fighting for life will mean living each day like it was your last, with passion, anger and laughter, the way "The Daily Show" shined a light on a crevice of the nation's battered economy on Wednesday night.

Now, six years later, Stewart's abrupt announcement of his looming farewell is a huge surprise..and yet in another sense no surprise at all. It's hardly a secret that the satirist had grown weary -- who wouldn't be after doing the same job for 15 years...and watching the very foundations of America's economic and political system corrode at a quickening rate? He leaves at the right time -- and yet at a time that the public needed him more than ever. No wonder so many people are asking the same question tonight that vocalist Elvis Costello and songwriter Nick Lowe asked a generation ago.

So where are the strong...and who are the trusted?