How’s This For Your Moment of Zen: The Daily Show Is Journalism

By Chris Ariens 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

A bunch of eggheads are calling Jon Stewart‘s “The Daily Show” a horrible name.

The J-word! (There, we said it.)

Comedy Central’s faux news show “commits journalism on a regular basis, whether they want to admit it or not,” says Tom Rosenstiel, director of Washington’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“It gets people to think serious thoughts about the public square. This is a form of political commentary. They’re doing it with razors, for laughs, but they’re doing it.”

PEJ released a report Thursday on “The Daily Show,” comparing its “news agenda” with that of 48 other news sources including Big 3 evening newscasts and morning shows; cable news networks and newspapers.

The group analyzed “Daily Show” telecasts for all of 2007, tracking guests and segments.

No major surprises, Rosenstiel says, but now it’s all official, with numbers and graphs and charts.

“There’s an earnestness to a study like this that’s a little embarrassing when you talk about comedy,” he says. “We’re easy targets. It’s like trying to shoot a hole through cardboard. It’s not that hard.”

We’ll keep our .48 holstered. What’s the headline, Tom?

“Daily Show has the same agenda as cable news. Stewart is absolutely playing off politics, Washington, the Bush administration, the war. It’s very topical — what happened today is front and center.

“That’s very much what you’d see on Chris Matthews, Brit Hume, Lou Dobbs, O’Reilly, Olbermann. They’re all offering an ideological hook to attract viewers. They pick and choose very carefully, looking to reflect their political points of view.”

The difference is that Stewart is funnier and sillier. On purpose, anyway. And he uses more news footage — and more aggressively — than do the other guys, to expose politicians’ hypocrisy.

“I don’t think we appreciated the degree to which Stewart’s focus was political, night after night. Inside the laughs, there was a pretty serious point a lot of the time.”

So serious that in a March 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in which 1,000 people were asked which journalist they most admired, Stewart tied for fourth with Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Anderson Cooper.

Charlie Gibson was third and O’Reilly second, with the top spot going to — ta da — Katie Couric.

And now, your moment of Zen.