As a kid growing up, watching TV at our home was always the same. I sat on the couch nearer the TV, my brother on the one further away. If there was ever a joke I missed or a connotation I didn't understand, I would quickly turn back to my older (and much smarter) brother, who, unprompted would immediately clear things up. In this way, I was secure in knowing that I would "get" whatever was on, in its entirety. This sense of security continued well into our teenage years and ended when we got older and lived apart. In the months following the first time we didn't share a roof, I would catch myself turning to where the couch would have been in my childhood home looking for a quick explanation to no avail. The feeling of deep sadness I felt then has been repeated again, now, 15 years later, as the world has lost its older brother, Jon Stewart.
Any amount of hyperbole used to describe the impact that Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" had on U.S. politics, journalism, the press, me or any other viewer would not do Stewart justice. As a chronic worrier of problems I can't singularly solve - global poverty, child neglect, malnutrition - I've had 15 years of peace. I have slept well at night knowing that nothing would slip through the cracks; that a major story of corruption, neglect or aggression would almost certainly be addressed. I realized that the world is constantly in chaos and that global peace is still a dream, but the reassurance that goes along with knowing that someone is on the case, that someone will uncover the uncoverable, feels like what I imagine the citizens of Gotham feel in the presence of their neighbor Mr. Wayne. Even if I'm not able to solve these problems, the problem has been identified and exposed to the world, now we all share the responsibility of solving it. This was Jon Stewart's gift to the world, as cliché and unbelievable as it might sound, "the truth."
I remember walking past posters of Jon Stewart while a student at Syracuse University. It was the fall of 2000 and the posters said "The Jewish Student Union presents Jon Stewart." At the time, I thought the show would be two hours of dreidel and latke jokes at the student center and skipped the opportunity at seeing Stewart live, a decision I have regretted since. Stewart had just started his tenure hosting "The Daily Show," at a time in which the Internet was in its infancy. The U.S. economy was booming, unemployment was nonexistent and college students were being recruited out of their underclassmen years. The nation and the world were full of hope as to what this new technology would bring to the world. At the time, Stewart's show was more entertainment than "edutainment." There was no need for an older brother; the world was all rainbows and unicorns. Less than a year later, however, that would all change forever.
Jon Stewart's coverage of the Bush presidency, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and later the "Great Recession" made him the most trusted name in news for much of the U.S. and the world. No rhetoric. No spin. Just Stewart skewering those that employed rhetoric and spin with facts. It was less a comedy show that covered the news and more a news show that was funny. "The Daily Show" will continue next month with a new host and many of the same writers, but the show's genius wasn't in just the facts it delivered, but in the way it made those facts so attractive to the viewer. This accomplishment, the delivery, must be credited to Stewart alone.
Stewart's take on the financial press and its coverage of financial markets in a carnival-like atmosphere has changed how journalists cover the economy and markets. As a financial columnist, Stewart's skewering of Jim Cramer and CNBC at the height of the 2008 crisis always plays in the back of my mind when writing a column. The public looks to the press for "the truth" and the financial press can most quickly harm the public by misdirecting their savings accounts. If financial media outlets knew where markets were headed, they wouldn't be media outlets, they would be hedge funds. Pretending to know and goading the public to follow along is as Stewart said to Cramer "disingenuous at best and criminal at worst."
As this chapter of American journalism comes to an end, the U.S. and the world will no longer have someone to catch them as they play in rye fields on cliff edges and I'm not looking forward to looking back to see a void where Stewart once sat. Thank you Jon Stewart, the world is deeply in your debt.