May 3, 15
JAMS 101-601: Introduction to Mass Media
The Alternative Journalism of The Daily Show The Daily Show has emerged as a prominent example of alternative journalism under the leadership of Jon Stewart. Through blending entertainment and news in a way that has illuminated sociopolitical issues as well as fundamental issues with mainstream media, the show has captivated much of America. The recent episode of the show featuring George Stephanopoulos is a prime example of the show’s function as a source of alternative journalism, as it interrogates power, critiques the news, and contains a thoughtful discussion of issues important to democracy. This episode is an example of The Daily Show’s use of alternative journalism. In his essay, ‘The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism’, Geoffrey Baym notes that a main tenet of the show is “…blending humor with a serious concern for current events” (5). This is evident within the first minute of the episode, when host Jon Stewart announces, “Let’s get right to the top story: the lawless, destructive riots shaking our nation…” However, instead of showing scenes of the recent Baltimore riots that a conventional newscast would be expected to show, the screen displays scenes of sports fans and pumpkin festival attendees (mostly white) rioting. Stewart pretends that these scenes have been mistakenly integrated into the newscast and the audience laughs. Though this may appear simply humorous on the surface, the intent to illuminate a serious issue is clear through the humor – that the predominantly white population criticizing the largely black riots often riots over much more trivial things, provoking thought about the validity of the recent Baltimore riots.
As the show’s coverage of the Baltimore riots continues in this episode, another objective of the show rises: to critique the model of mainstream news. After finally displaying scenes of the Baltimore riots following the contrasting scenes of white people rioting, Stewart’s focus turns to CNN’s coverage of the events. After noting the cyclical eruptions of violence that have occurred each decade since the 1960s, the show segues into several intermittent scenes of CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer communicating his disbelief that widespread violence and rioting is occurring in an American city. Stewart’s emphasis on the similarity and predictability of such events before the contrasting scenes of Wolf Blitzer underscores TV news’ typical aversion to factual detail and complexity of argument. Blitzer’s lack of regard for historical context or complexity in his coverage of the riots demonstrates this pitfall of conventional TV news, in Stewart’s clear critique of tropes of mainstream news.
This episode of The Daily Show frequently interrogates power. Jon Stewart reprimands the mayor of Baltimore for not declaring a state of emergency early enough, notes the prevalence of systemic poverty and police brutality, and critiques the suppression of urban black communities. In addition, regular correspondent Hasan Minhaj contributes a piece on the issue of the political gridlock in U.S. Congress. Minhaj’s piece in particular displays the show’s dialogic discourse, as multiple voices are juxtaposed to force their statements into revealing