Years ago, Geoffrey Baym paused his late night channel surfing to listen to an in-depth conversation with Sen. John McCain about campaign finance reform. CNN? CSPAN? Nope, Comedy Central.
It turns out that Baym, an associate professor of media studies, was watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” A former television journalist, Baym was fascinated by the forum as much as by the reasonable discussion itself.
He explores this “serious comedy” and more in his recent book “From Cronkite to Colbert: The Evolution of Broadcast News,” winner of the 2010 Book Award from the National Communication Association’s Political Communication Division. The award will be presented next month at the association’s national conference in San Francisco.
Along with laughs for the audience, the hosts of faux news programs deliver tough questions for politicians, questions frequently missing from mainstream news coverage, Baym says. “Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are doing the heavy lifting of the Fourth Estate. They’re doing what Cronkite was trying to do all those years ago, although using radically different methods.”
Stewart and Colbert, hosts of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” clearly are thinking outside the cable box. Colbert testified before Congress about immigration on Sept. 24. On Oct. 30, he and Stewart will host dueling rallies on D.C.’s National Mall, spoofing Glenn Beck’s Aug. 28 Restoring Honor Rally.
Baym suggests that Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity emphasizes a point “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have long been making.
“Stewart asks us to be serious by being silly,” Baym says. “Colbert calls for reason by being unreasonable. The tools of comedy – satire, irony, and parody – have become necessary ways to talk about a political culture that itself is growing increasingly bizarre.”
By Dan Nonte
Photography courtesy Comedy Central