In the last several months, three significant rallies have taken place at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The first rally had 85,000 attendees; the second, 3,000; and the most recent one, 215,000 attendees. The first rally was the Rally to Restore Honor held by conservative radio personality Glenn Beck. The second was the Rally to Reclaim the Dream held by Rev. Al Sharpton. The last and most widely attended of the three was dubbed the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear … it was held by comedian and political satirist Jon Stewart.
Stewart’s rally was not only massively attended but also streamed online and televised by numerous media outlets, which garnered over 2 million viewers. During the weekend of the rally, the WE twendz pro™ service captured 9,715 tweets pertaining to the event, which included a potential reach of 22,373,540. Ariana Huffington, Eddie Izzard and The Huffington Post were among the top influencers tweeting about the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
The event was a culmination of success for Stewart. Within the last two weeks, he was voted the most influential man of 2010 by askmen.com and interviewed President Barack Obama on his ‘fake news’ show, “The Daily Show.” Stewart, started out as a small-time comedian in the ’90s before making his way onto Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and transformed the segment into a popular critical/comedic commentary of the U.S. media and government. Throughout his years on “The Daily Show,” Stewart has not only interviewed some of the most powerful politicians and celebrities, he has asked them critical questions while still maintaining a comedic atmosphere. Stewart — a comedian — has become known as the most trusted man in politics and possibly even in America. Why is that?
Satirists and cartoonists have always held an important place in the media. One such example is that of Thomas Nast. Nast was a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly when Boss Tweed, a corrupt politician, defrauded New Yorkers out of millions of dollars in 1860s New York. Tweed’s influence was so great that many reporters would not write anything against him or were bribed into not publishing their stories. Nast refused Tweed’s bribes and utilized his comedic cartoons to illustrate the politician’s crimes to the general public. Many of Tweed’s constituents were illiterate, which made Nast’s communication through illustrations all the more powerful in Tweed’s downfall. By the time Tweed was up for re-election in 1871, he lost and his hold on the local government was broken.
In terms of heroes and villains, Nast was the hero in the story, and the obvious villain was Tweed. In Jon Stewart’s world, the vilified are the American news media.
Stewart’s main demographic are people in my age bracket (Generation Y). This is a generation that has grown up with a strong distrust of both the government (excluding the 2010 presidential election) and media all together. It is perceived by many in Generation Y that the government, along with major news networks, lacks adequate accountability. So when a comedian has the guts to call out Democrats and Republicans alike on their discrepancies in a smart and incredibly comedic way — it’s attention-grabbing.
Once more, Stewart’s appeal lies on both sides of the political spectrum. As askmen.com pointed out, Stewart, a Democrat, has no special treatment for the Democratic Party when it comes to criticism: “And despite being an Obama supporter himself, Stewart is the first to blow the whistle on the president’s shortcomings… Left-wing or right-wing, no one is off-limits to Stewart.”
Like Nast, Stewart communicates in ways almost everyone can understand and identify with. He keeps his rhetoric relatively plain and simple, at the level that a 13-year-old can understand, but without dumbing things down. When many news segments can be difficult to follow due to lack of focus or convoluted questions, Stewart cuts straight to the point.
This was especially evident in 2004 when Stewart was a guest on CNN’s, now canceled segment, “Crossfire.” An argument with host Tucker Carlson ensued after Stewart stated that “Crossfire” was not living up to journalistic integrity. When Carlson countered that Stewart wasn’t fair in his interview questions with John Kerry, Stewart famously responded with, “You’re on CNN! The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls; what is wrong with you?”
Stewart’s response highlights a double-sided point. He is a comedian and, therefore, not held to the standards journalists are. Furthermore, this position allows him to take anyone to task and do it in an entertaining way. Shortly after Stewart’s appearance, “Crossfire” was canceled. CNN’s CEO Jonathan Klein cited Stewart’s visit as part of the reason behind the cancellation.
When a generation looks at the American news media and government and sees a lack of check and balances from the journalists who are supposed to be supplying accountability, it’s obvious a gap needs to be filled. So far, Jon Stewart has been the one to fill that void.
Six years after the “Crossfire” incident, Stewart once again took the U.S. media to task in his closing statements to those at the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear.
“The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the ‘dangerous, unexpected flaming-ants epidemic!’ If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
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