04/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who Is Pressing The Pressmen?

As self-appointed ombudsmen, the press once acted as the fourth branch of government acting as a check and balance system to those wielding influence and power. But in an age where everyone wants to rub shoulders with the elite, the rich and the (in)famous-even once immune journalists have come to behave like affable lapdogs jumping into the fishbowl with the personalities they cover in exchange for access and perks. It's the high school equivalent of the class nerd giving the prom queen his science lab answers in the hope that she'll acknowledge him in the hallway or invite him to the cool kids' party on Saturday night. This scenario isn't very good for journalism or the public, and it begs the question, who is pressing the pressmen?

About a decade ago, a few outraged citizens came together and they've proven themselves marginalized, deranged, outspoken and wry enough to take on this three-ring circus called the media. This group is commonly known as The Daily Show "news" team, and it's helmed by their indefatigable leader, Jon Stewart. Using wit and words instead of bullets and guns, they've become America's defacto citizen journalist vigilantes keeping the politicians, pundits and sycophants from running over our truth borders. And by doing so, they've unwittingly formed a fifth branch of government.

Humorists and comedians are a curious bunch. Quixotic by nature, they want so desperately to live in a world of decency, fairness and goodness, and in Stewart's case, in a world where the media grew some cajones and asked questions that provoked thought and exposed truths. But skeptical by nurture, they've grown hardened to society's failures, follies and foibles and have come to expect only the most wanton, corrosive, debased, Jerry Springer-like behavior from their fellow man. Comedians are, without a doubt, the most disappointed idealists on the planet. Which is why when public figures (and their egos) go too far for too long completely unchecked, the funny gloves off and the screwed over idealist in Stewart comes out swinging-and then, watch out, because nothing kills mendacity faster than a comedian without a punch line.

The vainglorious Jim Cramer and his network CNBC were the most recent media figures to provoke Stewart's ire. And when Cramer went on The Daily Show, someone should have warned him that hell hath no fury like a comic scorned, because Stewart, with his rifle loaded, fired off questions about CNBC shirking its journalistic duty and Cramer being beholden to CEOs and corporate spin rather than using his position as a "tool of illumination." Apologetic and uncharacteristically restrained, Cramer was summarily chastened, depantsed and TKO'd. And CNBC's numbers have been off ever since.

If a journalist's job is to report stories based on facts without bias, and a satirist writes stories based on truth with ironic bias, then as satiric journalists, Stewart & Co. report stories based on facts with ironic bias. So maybe the problem with the media isn't just that they're in bed with their subjects, but that they're too linear in their thinking. They're trained to look for the story and not the story around the story, which may, in fact, be the story--and most likely has a really funny punch line. And since what passes for news these days is an M.C. Escher infinite loop of a joke, it makes sense that a bunch of comedians-who expect the absurd, recognize irony and presume human fallibility-are doing the only Murrow-like reporting on TV.