In the wake of Walter Cronkite’s death, time.com asked readers to vote for today’s most trusted newscaster. The decisive winner, with 44 percent of the vote, was Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s pull-no-punches “The Daily Show.” This was well ahead of the 29 per cent for NBC anchor Brian Williams, 19 per cent for ABC’s Charles Gibson and 7 per cent for CBS’s Katie Couric. (See map for state-by-state results.)
In my mind, the results are completely predictable. Personally I trust Jon Stewart more than anyone else to probe issues of actual importance. Most network news is sensationalist, and typically irrelevant blather, one step up from man bites dog. There are real problems in the world today. Young people know this. Increasingly they don’t accept the existing paradigms of what constitutes public discourse.
Jon Stewart’s popularity does not mean that today’s Net Generation is indifferent to the news. After all, to get most of Jon Stewart’s jokes, you actually have to know what is happening in the world.
Today’s youth are media-savvy, and have a good grip on what I would call the theater of Washington. A favorite Stewart technique was to note when a politician was blatantly contradicting what he or she said in the past. He would show two or three video clips back-to-back, and often just leave the contradiction to speak for itself. The news department of the big networks could do the same thing, but they choose not to. That’s not how they play the game. One can’t blame Stewart’s audience having greater faith that they’re getting the real goods.