Jon Stewart announced Tuesday that he will be leaving The Daily Show he has hosted on Comedy Central since 1999. The reaction from the media has been a gushing geyser of praise and, occasionally, an acknowledgement that his comedy mostly appealed to the far left.
The Boston Globe dubbed Stewart a “genius” and the Walter Cronkite to the millennial generation. The Globe said his “utterly trusted voice” had “helped shape the political and cultural attitudes of a generation.” Stewart’s partisanship was mentioned but only to praise it: “During the presidency of George W. Bush, especially during the Iraq war, Stewart emerged as a one-man opposition party, far more vigorous than the Democrats in Congress.”
The New York Times was only slightly less glowing in its own front page story on Stewart’s announcement. The paper made the requisite Cronkite comparison (adding Edward R. Murrow for good measure) and also labeled Stewart “the nation’s satirist in chief.” Stewart’s partisanship receives a mention midway through the story where The Daily Show is described as “a humorous release valve for politically frustrated (often left-leaning) viewers and a bête noire of (often right-leaning) critics who saw him as a member of the liberal media elite.”
The Cronkite reference was especially popular. Entertainment Weekly wrote, “It wasn’t enough for Stewart to be our Johnny Carson; we needed him to be Walter Cronkite, too.” The Chicago Tribune offered this somewhat confusing praise, “Stewart, like Cronkite, did become a trusted voice to many. But in Stewart’s case, it was the absence of someone like Cronkite that put him in that position.”
Actually, faith in Cronkite’s trustworthiness was badly misplaced. Like Stewart, Cronkite was a progressive who used his position at the network to advance his point of view and candidates he supported. Somehow that fact hasn’t seemed to damage his reputation very much.
Over at Time magazine, Stewart’s satire was praised for its excellent journalism:
So Stewart wasn’t an actual news anchor. What his show did with comedy was a kind of journalism nonetheless, using satire and some thorough research of source material to analyze the news and analyze its analysis. Any honest media critic knew that Stewart was doing the job better than the rest of us.
The Media Research Center did a rundown of the reaction from the network morning shows. NBC’s Willie Geist said, “no one was spared the wrath of his sharp commentary, his criticism and of course his humor.” That may be strictly true but as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out (in one of the few pieces that discussed Stewart’s actual appeal) The Daily Show was one of the most reliably liberal shows on television.
Pew Research Center studied news consumption in 2012 and found only Rachel Maddow had a more lopsided liberal audience. Roughly three times as many liberals as conservatives watched Stewart’s show. And when it came to party affiliation, Stewart’s show drew more than four times as many Democrats as Republicans. His mirror image on the right, according to the same survey, would fall somewhere between Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. It’s difficult to imagine either of those two gentlemen getting this fawning treatment should they choose to announce their retirement.