Headlines nowadays seem like some trite combination of action comics and Jerry Bruckheimer movies, and the dire happenings they talk about are usually presented by anchors who speak of death and destruction with a gleam in their eyes. Is it any wonder, then, that news satire has become a popular form of entertainment? And though Saturday Night Live offers some distant competition, the unquestioned king of fake news is Jon Stewart. Heck, people even turn to Stewart to find out the real news, according to many polls. But Stewart is unimpressed.
"Well, that's really just another story the news media created," he says. "You have 24 hours to fill, after all. I just saw a 'breaking news' flash come up on one of the news channels the other day -- and the words just stayed up there. It's a 24-hour news channel! How can you possibly have hours of breaking news?"
For a guy who does fake news, Stewart is ironically plugged into the 24-hour news channel racket, which is a fairly recent occurrence in Stewart's life. The comedian-cum-social commentator got his start the way most of his brethren did, performing in dingy clubs for laughs and bus money.
"I like going back to that now and again," he says. "I try to do a show at least once a month, just to talk about whatever's on my mind at the time."
What followed the standup career was a long, gruesome chain of "critically hailed" endeavors -- the sort of things that are great ideas but don't get ratings. MTV's Jon Stewart Show was a witty combination of talk show and sketch comedy. Thus, like most things on television endowed with talent and wit, it was spiked in the middle of its first season. Luckily, his second starring role has been greeted with more enthusiasm.
The New York Times said Stewart "breathed new life into a show that hadn't ever seemed to need it" when he arrived as host of the Daily Show in 1999. Since, he has risen from fake newsman to legitimate if wisecracking pundit. Particularly when it comes to the mistakes and manipulations of his "colleagues" in the broadcast media.
"I think the whole merging of information and entertainment is a pretty sad state of affairs," he says. "Treating the news as if it were an ad campaign is wrong." Stewart believes that the manipulation of the media by the powers that be is among the more disconcerting phenomena in recent media history. He cites the recent Orange Alert as a perfect example. Though it was based largely on fabricated and false evidence, the media ran with the story, simply because it had neither the time nor the inclination to check out the facts -- after all, who wants to be beaten to the punch in breaking a big, spooky story like that?
"It's just that the politicians have learned how to manipulate these channels so well," Stewart says. "When they saw Nixon lose the election because of a couple beads of sweat on his upper lip, they made a vow that this medium would never get the best of them again. And it hasn't. In fact, the opposite happens now."