Journalistic Dumpster Diving

Journalistic Dumpster Diving

September 8, 2011

Mainstream news producers continue to struggle between legitimate and illegitimate political information. Watching MSNBC or Fox News should remove any of your doubts as to this assertion.  That reality has been a boon for shows like The Colbert Report and particularly The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

There are journalists, like Ted Koppel, who are expressly uncomfortable with what has become more than notion, but a studied trend. Journalists, like Bill O’Reilly, claim it to be “really frightening” that shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have a growing relevance and are becoming a force in our political processes. This fact has become a public reality for journalists as the 2012 election campaign marches forward. The Daily Show has more than a mere possibility of playing an important role in the political discourse of this forth coming election.

If I were a betting man, I’d give odds that last night’s mainstream produced republican debates are likely to receive more focused audience attention and be subsequently more fully dissected by Jon Stewart’s forth coming critiques of post media analysis than solely through viewership of traditional news recap and analysis. Does Las Vegas have a betting line on this yet?

There is a clear trend these days, particularly between younger eighteen to thirty-four year old audiences that has embraced the spirit of Monte Python–something completely different—programming that is designed to entertain and functions predominately as a political program.

The Daily Show is a form of political discourse that contrasts what “is” and what “ought to be.” Jon Stewart’s ridicule scolds with one important end in view—a return to moral and ethical senses. Steward, whose audiences experts say, are more politically knowledgeable than that of Leno or Letterman, takes aim at the dynamics of politics, political rhetoric and satirizes the sensationalist practices typically associated with local news programming. The Daily Show sets out to expose absurdities–poking fun at journalists while conveying that something is seriously wrong with their ethical journalistic compass.

Beyond the comedic ridicule, The Daily Show’s political satire is also a plea to journalists and the 24 hour news networks. In October of 2004, Stewart told the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire: “This show is hurting America,” because “you’re helping the politicians and the corporations…You’re a part of their strategies.”

Regularly, Jon Stewart’s show features a brand of “journalistic dumpster diving” as he sometimes calls it, in his segments often contrasting Fox News’ America Live with Fox’s opinion shows highlighting the identical rhetoric of “objective” news reporting and their “opinion” shows. Regardless of whether it’s Fox News or MSNBC, this is where he traps their pundits on the contradictions of their own statements while exposing the frequent lack of journalistic decorum.

The Daily Show often employs the tools of irony to create its humor to expose the gap between what is and what should be. The business of the satirist is to insist on the sharp differences between vice and virtue, between good and bad, between what man is and what he ought to be. Stewart, whose approach is rooted in parody, also satirizes the norms governing the typical news media through the ironic inversions of the day’s news to create his humor.

Contrary to the “frightened” Bill O’Reilly, numerous political communication scholars have observed a societal benefit corresponding with the increased popularity of The Daily Show, which is an increase in the audiences use of traditional news media. In short, Stewart’s audiences are consuming more—not less—traditional news.

In a media landscape, where “real” news is becoming increasingly harder to identify and the boundaries between news and entertainment blurred, Jon Stewart’s blend of comedy, news and political conversation has proven a significant hybrid model of political communication. With an eyes wide open journalistic interpretation, The Daily Show arguably has much to teach us about the possibilities of political dialogue and should be seen as an experiment in journalism—not “fake news.”

In a discursive media environment, The Daily Show may have become an incentive, if not an advance model, of deliberative democracy for journalists to regain their professional compass.


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  • Jon Stewart reminds those of us who are not citizens of the country that there are many Americans who do think! We certainly do not 'fit' the eighteen to thity-four audience demographics ... my spouse and I are retired 60's seniors .... We cringe at what American society consumes from the American mainstream media sources .... Yes - Stewart does advocate a return to moral and ethical senses and it is a good thing he does .... for he unfortunately has few peers so concerned on the major networks - if any .....

  • Geezer I applaud your recognition that something is seriously lacking American mainstream media. In that thought I recently came upon a Fox interview of friends to Rick Perry who purportedly came forward to respond to Michele Bachmann's "crony capitalism" comment related to his controversial 2007 executive order mandating the vaccine, Gardasil for all Texas girls entering 6th grade.
    The interview of Craig and Lisa Wilson was clearly an attempt to rehabilitate Perry and wholly lacking Journalistic objectivity which as caused me to write another article. However, I've decided to step up my attack on the media and take it to another level which I intend to point by point illustrates what might have served a more valid journalistic purpose. Stay tuned and thanks for your thoughts most insightful.

  • We are staying tuned ... your columns have crisp and concise content ... a style that we appreciate reading .... and the positions that you take Lawscout appear to be supportive of the lofty premise that we are all in this together ... though we each may have different 'ways & means' ...

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