RABBLE, RABBLE: Fake news: first step to an informed public?

Mike Bucaria

A generation regarded Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America, and so his passing in 2007 left a void. Who then do Americans turn to for reliable news? Many news anchors possess an agenda and degrade themselves to caricatures to increase ratings, at the expense of distorting the news. With polemics replacing pundits in the media, whom can Americans trust?

A 2007 Time magazine poll asked people whom they looked to for news. The result was a five-way tie for fourth place among Anderson Cooper, Tom Brokaw, Charlie Gibson, Brian Williams and, surprisingly enough, comedian Jon Stewart. This followed a non-scientific poll that even placed Stewart in first by a significant margin.

Famous as anchor of “The Daily Show,” Stewart and his correspondents have entertained and enlightened viewers for the past decade. 

Never was this involvement more apparent than during the elections of 2004 and 2008 when continuous reporting created increased awareness of these elections in its viewers.

In fact, The Guardian reported this September that Stewart’s viewers, the majority of whom are under 30, get as much of their news from Stewart as they do from traditional sources, such as evening news and cable news channels.

The extent to which this trend is increasing is manifested in Stewart’s rally planned for Oct. 30 in Washington, D.C. The “Rally to Restore Sanity” is publicized with humorous phrases, such as “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.” Clearly directed at the ultra-conservatives, Stewart is utilizing his usual mix of satire and sensibility.

Stewart’s comedic counterpart, Stephen Colbert, has furthered Stewart’s cause with the “March to Keep Fear Alive.” On a recent episode of “The Daily Show,” Stewart announced the merge between Colbert’s march and his own, now called the “March to Restore Fear and/or Sanity.” By making his own point and showing the allegedly ridiculous position of his opponent, Stewart is taking the political world by storm.

However, Stewart is not the only pop culture presence in politics. For years, artists, actors and authors have shared their political views with audiences. From Kanye West’s outburst, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” following Hurricane Katrina to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest gig as governor of California, celebrities have pursued various levels of political involvement and have received various levels of support.

Recently, pop sensation Lady Gaga began campaigning to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. USA Today reported that Gaga said in a recent speech: “I would like to propose a new law…called ‘If You Don’t Like It, Go Home’ [which] discharges the homophobic soldier that has the real negative effect on unit cohesion.”

However Stewart stands out by presenting the news, not just speaking for one issue. Not only does he present the news, but people also listen to him, too. A 2007 Pew Research Center poll reported that 16 percent of Americans watch “The Daily Show.” Compared to 17 percent for “The O’Reilly Factor” and 14 percent for “News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” Stewart has clearly made a name for himself.

The polls might present the numbers, but the most important information gleaned from Stewart’s success is the impact on youth. A November 2008 CIRCLE study shows that the percentage of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 increased greatly in 2008. This dramatic increase occurs as Stewart’s own ratings go up. This new type of news not only informs, but also shows tangible results.

Now that the primary elections are over, coverage of the 2010 midterms will occupy more time on political networks. Instead of CNN or Fox News dominating the discussion, larger news networks will have to make room for the voice of the youth — Jon Stewart.

Stewart is not free from bias. His liberal leanings are evident in his ideological differences with conservatives Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, as well as in his public support of the Democratic Party in elections past. However,ww Stewart does not merely spew party slogans and bash Republicans. In an interview on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Stewart admitted that he suffers “Obama remorse,” as O’Reilly named it. Stewart criticized Obama saying, “He ran as a visionary, and he’s led as a functionary.” Furthermore, since Obama assumed the presidency, he has maintained the status quo too much, according to Stewart.

A combination of sound reason and popularity has helped Stewart perform an invaluable service to the nation. Democracy is dependent on an informed electorate which is now increasing, and if this trend continues, then young people will maintain their status as a key demographic in elections to come. However, this is not over — Stewart is only the first step.

The next step is for viewers to keep their interest, even when the jokes stop. The true test of Stewart’s success in bringing the youth into politics will be if they stay and what this generation does once there.

Mike Bucaria is a freshman undeclared major from Rockville Centre, N.Y. He can be reached at [email protected]