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“The Daily Show” as Journalism — Or Not

- May 13, 2008


The folks over at Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism have just completed a comprehensive analysis of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” starring the perpetually smirky Jon Stewart. The point of departure for their study was that Stewart recently tied with heavyweight teleprompter-readers Brian Williams, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Anderson Cooper in a nationwide survey as as America’s most admired journalist. (Of course, if you pay much attention to the network news shows these days, which seem to consist primarily of ads for drug companies, a headline and sound-bite or two, and lots of lifestyle fluff, you’ll realize that such recognition comes closer to guilt by association than to a true honor.)

Anyway, the Pew researchers decided to explore the extent to which what’s shown on the “Daily Show” accords with journalistic standards like comprehensive coverage of various types of news and equal time for representatives of various viewpoints. The results are contained in a lengthy report, HERE.

The main conclusions?

bq. The results reveal a television program that draws on the news events of the day but picks selectively among them—heavily emphasizing national politics and ignoring other news events entirely. In that regard, The Daily Show closely resembles the news agenda of a number of cable news programs as well as talk radio.

bq. The program also makes heavy use of news footage, often in a documentary way that employs archival video to show contrast and contradiction, even if the purpose is satirical rather than reportorial. At other times, the show also blends facts and fantasy in a way that no news program hopefully ever would.

In short, “The Daily Show” doesn’t pass muster as a news program. Despite the wealth of interesting detail presented in the Pew report, this is not exactly a “Stop the presses!” conclusion. After all, “The Daily Show” appears on Comedy Central and, as Jon Stewart himself has sometimes had to remind his critics, “We’re not a news show.”