On a recent trip to Europe, I was amazed that the Daily Show with Jon Stewart is broadcast in an “international version” along with a disclaimer that it’s “satirical news”. While the satire part seems self-evident, the recent change in press standards is making the line between satire and reality harder for all of us to distinguish.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Daily Show for years. It’s something I record on the DVR religiously, and watch online in the morning on the web. The only downside to this was last year, when my then fourth grader was asked for names of who was running for president, and he pointed out Stephen Colbert was on the ballot in South Carolina. I think his teacher began to suspect the child was being exposed to more than the Cartoon Network at home. (Maybe we shouldn’t tell her his favorite songs are from the Capitol Steps.) But the Daily Show has become more than just snarky comments about the news- it’s doing serious stories we should all care about.
Jon Stewart’s interview with Jim Cramer from CNBC is one notable example (the extended interview is available online in three separate segments.) This was journalism I wish we could see more of on mainstream news channels. Stewart remarked that CNBC had a great opportunity to educate people about the market, but have somewhat abdicated their responsibility. Stewart asked Jim Cramer to defend some of the things they did on CNBC, and says “I know you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a f**&ing game.” Cramer responded, (and I am paraphrasing here, so please check out the video for the exact wording) “There’s a market for this [type of entertainent financial news]” and Jon Stewart remarked back- “There’s a market for cocaine and hookers.” (around 11 minute mark).
Then, there’s the Daily Show’s last set of reports from Iran. Very moving, and humanizes a part of the world we often see as the “other”- it’s full of family and kids and people trying to scrape by. They are just like us. Why does it take a comedy news spoof to show us the moving pieces, to show us the news we can use? It’s like the Daily Show has ended up being more honest, through comedy and as Stewart puts it, “goofy faces and fart noises” than the actual journalists we’re supposed to trust to bring us the facts- to be that balance that keeps governments honest and in line.
Last night, the news of Michael Jackson’s death was reported on twitter, later confirmed by news outlets. Likewise, there were rumors of the demise of other celebrities that looked like link-bait scams of the highest order. Somewhere in here, the line between immediacy and accuracy is being lost. The line between heresay, rumor and news is being lost. The line between journalism and cocktail party chatter is blurring. And it’s the reason why reputation and trust are going to become even more important than ever before.
And it’s the reason I’m looking forward to seeing what Julien Smith and Chris Brogan have to say in their new book, Trust Agents. We may need this book more than ever.