I remember staring off into the distance, out of the wide glass windows located to the far left of the room. The professor was lecturing. She ever so slightly moved back and forth, talking in repetitive sentences. She moved her hands constantly; her short hair swayed back and forth with her slight twists and turns. She told me-or should I say the class-that journalism was a lantern that sheds light on darkness, illuminating the world to injustices and terrors.
Journalism is a lantern. That’s what I’ve been told. Reporters find the truth. They fight to expose the government’s evil and scandals. I always had trouble accepting this definition of a journalist, of a reporter. This is what a journalist and reporter should be, a light exposing corruptness and greed. But is that the true reality?
In chapter 1 of Mass Media in a Changing World (Fourth Edition), I am introduced to the concept of the media acting as a “fourth estate” or watchdog of the government. The media was meant to keep a watchful eye on its actions and thus report those actions to the public. As the title of the book implies, the world has indeed changed and as a result, so has the practice and use of media.
Jon Stewart definitely addresses this concept repeatedly throughout his TV program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. For example, in the video The Poor You Know & Did You Even Research This?, Stewart discusses how Fox News criticizes President Barack Obama constantly about his lack of initiative on tackling problems with poverty, when he in fact dedicates his whole presidency to this issue and even addresses it in public at Georgetown University. He also discusses how ironic it is that the reporters at Fox News seem to care so much about this topic, when they repeatedly used derogatory terms such as “sponges”, “freeloaders”, “moochers” and “leeches” to describe the poor. Stewart, doesn’t stop there, however, in another video, Mighty Morphin Position Changes, he talks about how Fox News, during the time of the Michael Brown shooting, read over a report, released by the Department of Justice, that exonerated the shooter, Darren Wilson, from his charges and accusations. With this report, reporters on the news outlet, began to criticize the protestors in Ferguson, claiming that they had no real reason to protest and that the other media outlets who attributed to this chaos by publishing and spreading stories that weren’t true should apologize for causing this disturbance. What Stewart points out, however, is that Fox News failed to recognize that there was a secondary report released by the Department of Justice that acknowledged the racial bias the Ferguson police department consistently showed the African American community. The news program, however, won’t admit or apologize for their lack of research and information. The media was meant to educate the American public; it was not meant to misinform them and spread stereotypes.
These two videos support the idea Brian Dunphy proposed in his book, Satire’s Brew. Dunphy writes that Stewart fills the role that the media was originally attended to fill. With the rise of industry and technology, the media has adapted its programming. Dunphy talks about selective exposure, in which viewers look for programs that match their interests and beliefs. As a result of this selective exposure, media outlets changed their content to match their viewers in order to keep them interested and as result, sustain/attain more views. With this catering, came news shows that sided with one political side or the other. With this divide, people lacked a diversity of perspectives and were being fed spins of the truth. Stewart, however, takes no sides. Although he might agree more with one political side, or with one political candidate, his criticism is not limited to those he finds distasteful. He speaks about what he believes to be necessary, regardless of status or political position. Satire’s Brew has many examples of when Stewart challenges both Republicans and Democrats. It even has an example of him challenging President Barack Obama himself. It is because of this that I believe that Jon Stewart is indeed our shining knight “fighting the windmills”, poking fun at the government’s foolishness and I agree whole-heartedly with his position as “the jester”.
The unique aspect of Jon Stewart’s program is the nature in which he decides to discuss these topics. Dunphy often compares him to a jester, someone who mocks and pokes fun at the court, the higher power. He also compares him to someone who is sitting on the sidelines, observing and commenting on the game without partaking in it. I agree with the idea that Stewart is able to maintain this position of neutrality and as result, is effectively able to comment and criticize actions of the government. I also agree with the concept of him being a jester. He is able to use his wit and his humor to enlighten citizens about real problems that occur in society. However, I disagree with the idea that he “is not part of the game”. Dunphy discusses how Stewart is part of the “fifth estate” or an additional check on those in power and in corporate media. He writes that the fifth estate is an inclusionary group, that anyone, so long as they have integrity and notable credentials, can be a part of it. As part of the fifth estate, Stewart is indeed part of the game. He influences the public to open their minds and reveals to them truths about the system that governs them. Although he doesn’t try to help either side, he is still a factor. He has the power to create change, to change the course of the game.
Many individuals debate on Stewart’s role as media. Some see him as another reporter simply disguised as a comedian. Others see him as a comedian, disguised as a reporter. To be honest, I’m not sure its possible to truly classify Stewart. The lines of black and white are blurred into gray and its difficult to separate one from the other. I believe that Stewart is a blend of the two. However, from the content and the way in which Stewart displays his information I would have to say the Stewart is in fact a reporter, but a reporter that is able to send knowledge to his audience in a unique way. Regardless of his title, of his classification, he is a man that portrays true objectivity and has become an essential part of news and politics. He has shown me that things aren’t so clear, that there are things that even professionals get wrong. His interview with Judith Miller taught me that even the most exalted, can be brought down to earth among the commoners.