In the wake of the now-famous televised showdown between Jon Stewart and Chris Wallace Sunday morning there's lots of chatter from pundits on both the left and right that Stewart, as Wallace charged, is dodging his true role as a 'journalist.' To paraphrase Stewart from the interview, anyone who believes this ridiculous assertion is "insane."
I'm not exactly sure where all the confusion lies. Stewart was a stand-up comic for years and now has a comedy show. On "Comedy Central." And like many a legendary humorist before him -- Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Mort Sahl, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce to name a few -- his material consists of politics, politicians and American culture. You will never see anything on The Daily Show, Stewart's nightly program, that is delivered with a serious tone. You will never see Stewart himself analyze and comment on anything unless his set-ups have wickedly funny punchlines. He's a satirist. And probably the best there ever was. But that's all he is. To paraphrase the late Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen's famous smackdown of Sen. Dan Quayle in their 1988 vice presidential debate, "Mr. Stewart, I know journalism. I studied journalism for many years. I have a journalism degree. Mr. Stewart, you're no journalist."
It's pretty sad when, as Rogers said, "People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke." A society which considers Stewart and people like Bill O'Reilly "journalists" is a society that's in deep trouble. To label Stewart a journalist is offensive to journalists and non-journalists alike. I don't get my news from Stewart. I save that for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC, The Huffington Post and other outlets. I watch Stewart for the same reason I watched/watch Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Carlin and a zillion other comics: to get a biting, funny take on the day's news. Because Stewart makes us laugh about the news doesn't make him a newsman. That he makes us laugh about politics doesn't make him a political activist. He's simply doing his job as a comedian.
Now on the other hand, as Stewart pointed out to Wallace, there are millions of very "misinformed" people who watch Fox News and actually think they're watching an objective news network. They listen to people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and think they're getting the truth. They're not. In an astounding admission of his network's true bias, Wallace, while discussing other networks with Stewart, said "I think we're the counterweight. I think that they have a liberal agenda, and I think we tell the other side of the story." Wow. So much for "fair and balanced."
Stewart is a true genius. But he's a comic genius. And without even being a true journalist he brilliantly managed to do what no one else has done: get Fox to admit that it's a politically biased television network. I bet Wallace didn't have that outcome in mind when he invited Stewart on his Fox "News" Sunday program.