Jon Stewart tries to follow the Fairness Doctrine while the corporate media continues to favor sensationalism over substance

Jon StewartMost progressives and Daily Show fans have heard by now about the recent attempt by NBC to land Jon Stewart for their increasingly irrelevant news show “Meet the Press.” Lucky for all of us Stewart turned the offer down.

In an age where actual infotainment has become traditional news and traditional news has become infotainment, it’s hard to understand what NBC was trying to gain from such a transaction. Stewart would not have been allowed to be the man he is on Comedy Central.

Mainstream media tends to shy away from asking politicians tough questions or criticizing their policies. They want these people to continue appearing as guests to increase their ratings. It’s why political figures like Sarah Palin, John McCain and Dick Cheney still get air time on most networks despite how wrong they’ve been in the past. No one ever calls them out on their bullshit. Except people like Jon Stewart

It seems unlikely that if Stewart had accepted the job, he wouldn’t have been permitted to do what the media is supposed to do. Instead, behind the scenes you would overhear “sorry Jon, you can’t say that about Mr. McCain whether it’s true or not, we need to interview him.”

Since Ronald Reagan allowed the Fairness Doctrine to die, our news media has favored sensationalism over substance and money over truth. The media used to be considered the fourth branch of government, its watchdog if you will. But with substance (investigative journalism) and truth removed, the democracy our media is supposed to be protecting is falling apart.

Somewhere down the line we started treating politicians as celebrities instead of public servants. This sensationalism and hype helped Obama get elected. It’s why misguided and outspoken half-term politicians can have their own reality shows.

It’s why we have something like “fangate” being reported instead of an actual debate. No one realizes Florida Governor Rick Scott pulled this stunt to keep the public talking about a fan rather than his horrendous policies. And no one knows he’s pulled this stunt before.

Part of the reason Jon Stewart appears to be the most trusted name in news is because he calls out and makes fun of the media’s sensationalism. If you ever watched the Daily Show you’d know his favorite targets are politicians, poor domestic and foreign policies and the mainstream media.

Jon Stewart is successful for two reasons. First and foremost he’s funny. If it was called the Daily Show with Mitch McConnell no one would watch. The other reason behind his success is that he does what no other real news program does anymore; he tries to follow the Fairness Doctrine.

Introduced in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine required the holders of broadcast licenses to inform the community on controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced.

If you were to add funny to that list you have what Jon Stewart represents. More so than most other journalists and news outlets anyway. Exaggerated gags and jokes aside, even the field reporters on the Daily Show do a better job of bringing important issues to light.

NBC’s attempted acquisition of Stewart suggests to me that people, particularly young people, are looking for a change in the quality of our news. A message not lost on HBO who acquired the equally talented John Oliver, whose new show “Last Week Tonight” is arguably more insightful than the Daily Show.

The truth is, if networks and news channels want to reclaim their journalistic integrity, they don’t need a Jon Stewart to help them out. They just need to stop thinking about news as a way to make money and get back to following the Fairness Doctrine, even if it no longer exists.

The biases the media has are much bigger than conservative or liberal. They’re about getting ratings, about making money, about doing stories that are easy to cover. – Al Franken

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