I love Jon Stewart as much as the next cable-news junkie blog-a-holic. I re-watch and even embed clips of his show regularly; I'm prone to sending out links to his opening segment; and when I'm next in New York, I really hope to attend a taping. I am, in other words, a big fan. But this is a little silly:
Forty-four percent of respondents to a recent Time magazine online poll called Jon Stewart America's most trusted newscaster, when put up against Katie Couric (7), Charlie Gibson (19), and Brian Williams (29). All the green states went for Stewart in the above map. It is, thank goodness, an unscientific poll, so maybe those numbers don't accurately represent a sample of informed news-watchers in America.
Before anyone starts sending me "but but but!" hate mail, I'll clarify. I'm happy with "The Daily Show" being a source, even the main source, of news for many people, because I assume that nearly everyone who claims it's their main source would otherwise get news from nowhere, or from Yahoo! headlines or Facebook updates. What's annoying is that, in seeking a successor to Walter Cronkite, Time included Jon Stewart in the question at all.
Let me point out the elephant in the room: Jon Stewart isn't a newscaster. You know who'd be the first to tell you that? Jon Stewart. While he does broadcast stories that are often more critical -- and thus, more accurate -- than what many other stations broadcast, his goal is not the same as a standard news program. Jon Stewart succeeds if you laugh; Katie Couric succeeds if you know something you didn't know when you turned on the TV. This goal of information is inherent in identifying yourself as a journalist or newscaster; it is part of the legacy of Walter Cronkite.
Of course, all four of these anchors are seeking the same thing: ratings. They want you to tune in not just tonight, but tomorrow night and every night for the rest of your TV-watching life. (Walter Cronkite wanted that, too). As such, there's more entertainment and titilation being mixed into news all the time.
I think that's wrong-headed. Walter Cronkite dominates our memories as a newscaster because he was trusted. That's why people tuned in night after night -- they trusted Cronkite to tell them how it was. None of these four anchors does that effectively. Stewart has a great excuse: He's not trying to be the most trusted name in news, just the most reliable name in topical comedy. The others are chasing Cronkite's legacy, but they're often running in precisely the wrong direction.