When Americans last year were asked to name the journalist they most admired, showing up at No. 4 on the list was a comedian. Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central and former master of ceremonies at Academy Award shows, tied in the rankings with anchormen Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and cable host Anderson Cooper.
Are Americans confused? What is Stewart doing on his program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which might cause people to consider him a journalist? How is the show similar to, and different from, what people get from the mainstream press? Beyond that, who—and what—gets skewered by Stewart and company, and who does not?
For answers, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism studied the content of The Daily Show for an entire year (2007), compared its news agenda with that of the more traditional news media, examined the lineup of guests and segments and tried to place the program into some kind of media context.
The results reveal a television program that draws on the news events of the day but picks selectively among them—heavily emphasizing national politics and ignoring other news events entirely. In that regard, The Daily Show closely resembles the news agenda of a number of cable news programs as well as talk radio.
The program also makes heavy use of news footage, often in a documentary way that employs archival video to show contrast and contradiction, even if the purpose is satirical rather than reportorial. At other times, the show also blends facts and fantasy in a way that no news program hopefully ever would. In addition, The Daily Show not only assumes, but even requires, previous and significant knowledge of the news on the part of viewers if they want to get the joke. And, in 2007 at least, the joke was more often on the Bush Administration and its fellow Republicans than on those from the liberal side of the aisle.
Read the complete findings The Daily Show: Journalism, Satire or Just Laughs? on the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Web site.