Media compares Jon Stewart to Edward R. Murrow: Aren’t most comedians advocates, though?

When Congress finally, belatedly passed legislation to help fund health care for the 9/11 responders, the New York Times — with thanks to the media's favorite pop-culture professor quote machine for more than a decade, Syracuse's Robert J. Thompson (full disclosure: I've even called him for a quote before) — put Edward R. Murrow's name in a headline suggesting that The Daily Show's Jon Stewart was his modern-day equivalent.

All because Stewart devoted one of his final shows of 2010 to 9/11 responders and the need to pass said legislation.

And whenever the NYT publishes, you can be sure that TV will follow. And so it was that ABC News' Sheila Marikar asked if the NYT comparison was "incredibly apt" (as friend of the site, Mediaite's Rachel Sklar suggested) or "ignorant garbage" (as Columbia University's Todd Gitlin suggested).

CNN also asked its in-house comedian/host Pete Dominick about Jon Stewart's role as an advocate. Roll that clip, shall we?


The debate, of course, could be asking a better question. Dominick even brings up the point. It's not whether or not Jon Stewart is like Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. Because he's not. Stewart is a comedian, so he is not held to the same journalistic standards that Murrow, Cronkite, or today's journalists are.

It's not as if this is a new question, either. Four years ago, Hollywood made a movie, Man of the Year, which imagined a character much like Jon Stewart's who decided to run for president and won! Robin Williams played the lead role in that film, but politically-minded comedian Lewis Black also was in it, and I asked him back in 2006 about the notion of comedians running for higher office (this was before Al Franken's successful U.S. Senate campaign in Minnesota, mind you). I also posed the question to Doug Stanhope — who then was considering a Libertarian run for president — and Boston political comedian Jimmy Tingle.

But when you really stop to think about it, comedians are advocates all of the time, and always have been. A comedian speaks truth to power, whether it's the medieval court jester revealing the emperor has no clothes, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin or Richard Pryor showing the power words have over us, or today's social commentators who reveal their commentary on society in stand-up comedy clubs and theaters around the world. Sure, not every comedian focuses so much on politics and policy. Not every comedian has to. Jim Gaffigan told audiences on his 2010 theater tour about how much Americans rely on junk food — whether it's McDonald's or tabloid magazines — to feed their daily diet. Louis CK is making audiences rethink the way they relate to their children and the strangers all around them. Dave Attell continues to poke at an audience member's own thoughts about what is taboo. As does Sarah Silverman. Chris Rock. Tina Fey. Maria Bamford. Patton Oswalt. Bill Burr. They're all advocates. They might not be pushing for a particular piece of legislation currently up for a vote on the floor of Congress. But they are pushing for society to stop stalling, to move forward, to wake up.

They can do this because that's what a truly great comedian does.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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2 thoughts on “Media compares Jon Stewart to Edward R. Murrow: Aren’t most comedians advocates, though?

  1. I’m definitely in the camp of people who don’t care for Jon Stewart because of the way he flirts with the line between comedy and actual journalism. While I do agree that comedians are often advocates and “reporters” by nature, there’s a world of difference between Carlin talking about politics from his perspective on stage and Stewart sitting down with actual major world leaders to have conversations. Every time I hear him say “I’m just a comedian” it comes across to me like him trying to have his cake and eat it too and it doesn’t sit right with me.
    More to the point, while a comedian talking on stage might heavily influence his audience’s beliefs, there’s still a clearly defined relationship of one person sharing his feelings with a group in order to provoke them. In Stewart’s case, “I only get my news from ‘The Daily Show'” has become a popular statement that a large percentage of people under 40 won’t think twice about. To those people, he’s more than just sharing opinions‚Äîhe’s reporting The News. His fans look at him as Webster but he thinks of himself as and he needs to stop pretending like he doesn’t know it.
    It’s not necessarily his fault that people take him more seriously than he claims to want, but when a guy gets an interview with a sitting president, he’s setting himself up to be taken seriously. I don’t think that he should be allowed to just chose to ignore the social responsibility issues that he’s privy to because he doesn’t like them.
    I can agree that the world in general is probably better with him than without, but my personal world will remain as Jon Stewart-free as I can keep it…

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