Jon Stewart delivered a lecture a while ago at the Kennedy School of Government, a prestigious branch of Harvard with a student body of the best and brightest. In the course of being grilled after his speech about current trends in journalism, he asked the students how many considered his show the best source of news?
He looked out at a sea of hands, shook his said, and said, "That's pathetic."
It's not pathetic. It's the sane choice in an insane world.
I also preferred Jon Stewart and The Daily Show on Comedy Central as the TV news of record.
So I deplore the closing down of my favorite news show on the first night of the writers strike. By going to re-runs -- we got to hear what Jon had to say about the Democratic debate of Oct.30 -- the strike had silenced "the most trusted name in fake news."
I feel the same way about the strike knocking off Jay Leno's show. Jay, to his credit, showed his solidarity with the workers by rolling up to the picket line on his shiny motorcycle with bags of donuts.
And it's outrageous that the strike also shut down David Letterman, the third member of the troika who, in my book, has replaced Brian, Katie, and Charlie as TV news sources. Not to mention that pillar of journalism Wolf Blitzer, whose Situation Room is spreading like kudzu on CNN.
I similarly deplore the shuttering of new upsides of Conan, Fergus, Jimmy Kimmel and Carson Daly. As a group late nite talk shows today are the fifth estate, a viewing of which can be an experience like thumbing through the local papers to get a diversity of opinions.
The closing down of these information sources for me is an example of the law of unintended consequences, a form of censorship not as bad as the emergency powers being enforced in Pakistan but having a similar effect.
"We're hunkered down for a long one," said Nick Counter, chief negotiator for the producers' union. The last long one (1988) lasted 22 weeks.
It raises two questions. Where will the best and brightest get all the news that's fit to laugh at, with the proper amount of cynicism and irony without the commercial network news hiding behind the ridiculous objectivity sham that is so ponderously fair and balanced it's excruciating?
More importantly, why do these late night news alternatives have to go to re-runs? The absence of writers is the usual but lame excuse. Why can't Jon, Jay, Dave, et al, talk to us without their writers?
Without meaning to be disrespectful to the thundering herd of writers who annually rush up to the stage every time Dave and the others win Emmys, don't the anchors of the emerging late nite news media have any thoughts about the day's news they can share with us without their writers? Are they just wind-up talking dolls like Katie and her colleagues of the establishment news division?
Surely, they have seen or heard or read all about it the way the public is theoretically over-informed, the reason given for the decline of the commercial evening news shows. Have our brightest evening stars nothing to say themselves, without violating the sanctity of the writers' union vows not to go to work. Or are they just a bunch of cowards?
If they can't think of anything to say themselves, they can always fall back on old media, something called newspapers, an endangered species once the most trusted source of fake news.
Besides being good for wrapping fish, newspaper pages contain fodder for thought and commentary. And it's in the public domain.
Why can't Jon Stewart, for example, sit at his desk and go through a pile of daily newspapers and comment on some of the crazy things going on in the world? I single him out for this experiment because in my opinion Stewart is the best and brightest of the six or seven on the late nite news beat. He is more than just funny. He is smart, articulate, a man who views the world slightly askew every night. And he only has a half hour to fill.
Why can't Jon of Mess O'Potamia explain what's happening in the land of freedom, Pakistan, or what he thinks of the news that pollution from China's booming economy now accounts for 20 percent of the bad air in California arriving via the air stream?
These are some of the issues that keep me awake at night. But I'm sure Stewart and the others have their own priorities.
Sure, the resulting show may be different without the usual cast of thousands of gifted writers. What's wrong with that?
I know this may sound like a wild idea. But Will Rogers used to do it every night on the Broadway stage. All he had to do, he explained, was read in the papers what they did in Congress that day and he'd have the audience in stitches. Of course, he also did lariat tricks.
In the golden age of radio, Mayor LaGuardia read the funnies during a big newspaper strike.
Mort Sahl used the newspaper as the big stick in the 1960s.
On television in the old days Tom Snyder could sit down in front of a camera and tell us stories about the strange things he saw around him on the way to the studio. Charles Grodin was a spellbinder talking for 30 minutes on CNBC. And don't forget the amazing Jack Paar.
An act based on reading newspapers?
Without writers to tell them what to say?
I realize newspaper reporters and columnists might now go on strike, demanding to be paid extra for use of their material on the semi-new media, but, as Brillat-Savarin first said, you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Late night talk show hosts of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your writers.
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.