The recent death of iconic newsman Walter Cronkite sparked the search to find a prominent newsperson to become America’s new trusted source. A recent survey from the Washington Post showed that Daily Show host Jon Stewart might actually be America’s most-trusted new anchor. Based on how Americans have started ingesting their news, this should hardly be surprising.
When asked to “suggest public figures who meet the Cronkite standard of trustworthiness,” a random number of Washingtonians answered Stewart, the former actor who years ago simultaneously indicted CNN and his own show by telling Tucker Carlson “you’re CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.” Despite the puppet lead-in, which has since been canceled, Stewart’s Daily Show has been recognized as a viable news source for years. A 2006 University of Indiana study found that the Daily Show’s coverage was just as substantive and informative as its big-media peers, including CBS, Cronkite’s old home.
But the response from TV viewers to the comedic approach to news might not be as telling as the response from the beltway. A study released in April found that candidates who appeared on the Colbert Report, another Comedy Central news program produced by Stewart, received a sizeable bump in campaign contributions. The report found that candidates who braved public mockery on the Colbert Report saw contributions increase by one-third in the month immediately following their appearance. These candidates also raised 44% more than those who did not appear on Colbert. Comedians haven’t just changed the way people consume their news. They’ve also become the nation’s favorite ranting curmudgeons.
In a broadcast news environment replete with subjective, snarky commentary, the man whose rant made the biggest dent in the collective socio-cultural psyche this past year was a stand-up comedian: Louis CK. His tirade on Late Night with Conan O’Brien last October, eventually entitled “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody is Happy,” became a viral video sensation for its scathing response to modern man’s lack of appreciation for… just about everything. In March, five months after the Conan appearance, the video of Louis CK remained an online hit, with ViralVideoChart.com listing it as the fourth-most-watched video that month. So, whether it’s for the entertainment value or refreshing perspective, some very funny people appear to have occupied Walter Cronkite’s lofty news mantle.