One of the nation's most-trusted news anchors stepped down this week.
Jon Stewart — yes, that Jon Stewart, from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" — ended his 16-year run on the show Thursday with great fanfare. During his final week, tributes rained in and even Bruce Springsteen showed up to say goodbye. Stewart's show was one of the funniest on television. He was the king of the fake news, no doubt.
But what was remarkable, to me anyway, was how many thought of Stewart as a trusted source of news. A 2014 survey by the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute found that 8 percent of viewers named him their most-trusted TV news source, far behind Fox, CNN and broadcast news shows but ahead of MSNBC. That survey found that he moved up to a tie for second among those who identified themselves as liberals, behind only broadcast news and tied with public television news.
So, you might ask, how can someone who pokes fun at news actually even be considered a reporter of it? And as much as some folks in the media might not want to believe it, there's a significant segment out there who don't trust us. So many outlets spin news to suit their views that even I sometimes wonder what's the truth.
Add to this that about three-quarters of Stewart's viewers are millennials, those in their 20s and 30s, and it all starts to makes sense. Stewart told the day's news, albeit from a skewed, satirical and definitely opinionated point of view. He tapped into the zeitgeist of a younger generation, making the same cynical remarks that they would. He did it for laughs but like every good satirist, there was a modicum of truth in what he said.
It's foolish to argue that news, especially on TV, isn't as much about entertainment as it is about delivering the information of the day. It's why things such as Jennifer Aniston's wedding or the latest fad diet gets nearly as much play as crime or politics. The truth is, news outlets need to capture your attention and they know that celebrity and off-beat news sells.
Oh, and by the way, Stewart's news set is heading to the Newseum in Washington for exhibit. Cathy Trost, the media museum's senior vice president of exhibits and programs, told CNN.com that they were adding the set because it helped to tell "an important story about how political satire and news as humor made 'The Daily Show' a trusted news source for a generation." Plus, I'm thinking, it'll probably help the museum attract a few more paying customers.
If all this sounds cynical, it isn't meant to be, at least not about Stewart's show. The media is changing and Stewart has played a part in it. But from where I sit, if the lines are truly blurred between trusted news source and humor, that's a bit scary.
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Shameless plug: I'll be at the Finksburg library this coming Saturday, Aug. 15, to lead a conversation with author and former Baltimore Sun reporter Rob Kasper about his recent book, "Baltimore Baseball & Barbecue with Boog Powell." It's all part of the Farm to Fork event, a celebration of the area's agriculture and food, sponsored by the library. The event runs from 2 to 7 p.m., with the book discussion at 4 p.m. I hope many of you will stop by to hear Rob share stories from his book.