Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on What Jon Stewart Wrought
The Jon Stewart news cycle has taken on a sort of elegiac feel. Media reporters have asked what The Daily Show host's retirement may mean for Comedy Central. Progressive writers, increasingly, have welcomed the news as a way to start something new in the comedy/news sphere.
"Screw the Great Men of News," wrote Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin on Twitter. "It's an outdated macho role that should die anyway."
Over at Slate, reflecting on the mixed legacy of Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," Jamelle Bouie argued that the retirement was good for liberals. "For a generation of young liberals," Bouie wrote, "his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left."
There's just no way to understate that. Stewart didn't just influence liberals; he proved that dives into thorny political subjects, aggregating the worst of politics and putting it in context, was marketable. Young people, allegedly short on attention spans, saw his coverage and were—voila!—informed. The show's opening segments, which chopped up quotes from events or cable news, ended up influencing how some MSNBC hosts packaged their segments on right-wing insanity.
"We even somewhat jokingly refer to those as Daily Show montages,'" said Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes, "where we string together a whole bunch of absurd sounding stuff."
Stewart did not invent the video montage, obviously. "I always thought that The Daily Show video archives gotcha stuff was basically a variant of Tim Russert’s patented confrontation technique, where he’d show politicians tape of their past remarks and then make them squirm on set while they tried to square themselves with their pasts," said Rachel Maddow, the host of the Rachel Maddow Show. "The Daily Show did it with a live audience, and most often without the live politician him/herself sitting there, but it’s the same technique. And when it’s done perfectly, it’s so damn satisfying you could eat it. It’s also, often, really good political analysis."
Other people in the cable talk industry suggested that Stewart streamlined something that had been working for a completely different sort of talk show—sports talk. The Daily Show's spin on that predated Stewart, under original host Craig Kilborn, who never became as influential a political figure. The reported segments resembled what Michael Moore did on his 1990s, pre-Academy Award projects, TV Nation and The Awful Truth. But Moore's shows were both produced by British networks, and ended in a hurry. One cable news veteran told me that, a few years into Stewart's tenure, he met about creating a comedy-flavored news show. His dream host was not Stewart, but Dennis Miller.
It took a while for the Stewart style to influence cable dialogue. Once it did, the influence did not fade. In progressive news organizations (I worked for one in 2009 and part of 2010), the evidence that a piece of shocking news about conservatives was taking off was that it made The Daily Show, The Colbert Report—or something on the MSNBC line-up. The difference was that Stewart was occasionally uncomfortable with explicitly liberal hosts satirizing the news, shaming them from the perspective that something on TV needed to report seriously and neutrally.
"The Daily Show was set up to look like a news set on purpose," said Maddow. "Effectively, it is a news show, just a really funny one. I do think that their success with that formula has made room in the rest of the news business for folks to show more personality and use more humor. We all suck in comparison, but Jon Stewart’s success has given us a little more room to roam within the confines of covering the news."
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