Sunday, March 29, 2009


Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," is quick to stress that his program, though styled after a television newscast, is actually "fake news" played for comedy.

Nonetheless, in a 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Stewart was named by 2 percent of respondents as the journalist they admired most. That doesn't sound like much, but no single journalist was named by more than 5 percent of the public, and at 2 percent Stewart was tied with Tom Brokaw, Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams.

Does the fact that he is regarded as a journalist by so many people impose any ethical obligations on Stewart -- say, to offer his send-up of the news in an accurate and well-researched manner?

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

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Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mr. Stewart could have a disclaimer at the beginning and end of each program: "Please don't be stupid enough to believe that everything you hear during this program is truthful. This is a comedy show. I take liberties with the truth, and expect you to be intelligent enough to recognize that this is a comedy show, not a news show".

Ron said...

I don't believe the premise of the question is valid. There is no evidence that anyone is confused as to whether or not Jon Stewart is a traditional journalist. That he ranks so highly on a list of admired journalists reflects the quality of his interviews and humorous critiques.

To make a simple analogy, Mr. Stewart has assumed the role of the court jester; the character who assumes no authority, no expertise, and no responsibility, and therefore is the only one able to speak truth to power because he has nothing to lose. In this way, Mr. Stewart is able to ask questions that are at once astonishingly rude and absolutely necessary.

One other problem I see with the question is that it reflects the attempt to "dumb down" our world to the lowest common denominator. I challenge anyone to find the viewer who tunes in to a show on the Comedy Central channel for news coverage. If such a catastrophically stupid viewer is found, I challenge anyone to justify altering a brilliant satire to serve that demographic.

We should commend and preserve the work of Mr. Stewart, and note happily that so many are able to glean useful information from a masterful parody of the media which, with questions such as this one, underserve them daily.

LIndy Lou said...

Actually, several of the people that I know who watch Jon Stewart DO believe that they are getting the "real news" from someone who is not afraid to "tell it like it is".

As to dumming down our world, the mainstream media is already doing a good job at that. Stewart is witty and clever. That's about it. I expect no more from him. That is not where I go to get my news. In fact, after a couple of episodes, I never went there again.