Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, Guantanamo, adultery, history, context. Our economy, our perspective, our government are screwed up today, in large part, because those people who deign to make a living informing you and me—We The People—about what matters in the world around us have failed utterly.
Those for-profit informers—in general, The Media; more specifically, the stalwarts of broadcast journalism that find themselves bereft of influence, relevance and profits—didn’t just let their customers down. They are poisoning the well of trust, integrity and revenue.
The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart is damn funny, and popular, too. He gets laughs, and ratings, not because he uses profanities during his show. But because his (consistently bleeped) profanities are used in the context of “…that f****** a****** Dick Cheney, lied to us.”
What’s less funny is that a recent Time magazine poll found that, in the wake of Walter Cronkite’s death in July, 44 percent of respondents nationwide named Jon Stewart their “most trusted newscaster,” the mantel once held by Cronkite.
As if to punctuate the utter shame of it all, Stewart had the newscaster who placed a distant second (with only 29 percent), Brian Williams, on his show to talk about Cronkite, his contribution to journalism and the benchmark of quality he set.
In his interview with Stewart, Williams said how it was the feared, loathed, unconventional and discomforting journalist, Walter Cronkite, whom he hoped to become one day. To which, without missing a beat, Stewart asked, “how does it feel to fall so short?”
What’s missing in what passes today for journalism is a serious measure of gonzo. Walter Cronkite had it. Hunter Thompson defined it. And more than anyone else in the entertainment space—that place where broadcast journalism in recent years has run with its integrity between its legs—Jon Stewart is now our most trusted bearer of the torch of gonzo.
Many are mistaken about the true nature and soul of gonzo as it applies to journalism. Gonzo comes from solid reporting, pertinent perspective and the bravery and integrity to speak truth to power, regardless of the consequences.
Many consider “balance of power,” as spelled out in the Constitution, to be the checks and balances We The People rely on to make sure the branches of our government don’t screw us because they’ve been hijacked by some special interest with suitcases full of cash.
Our Founding Fathers knew that as rational, righteous and responsive as the system was designed to be, it needed a gonzo cop to keep order. That cop has, until recently, been The Fourth Estate. The Media: that free and unfettered press protected by the First Amendment.
But as Stewart pointed out—and as any news consumer knows all too well—our Fourth Estate has left us twisting.
Consider, for example, how much better informed we’d all be if half of the time and energy spent reporting on Michael Jackson’s death would have been spent reporting on health insurance reform. And if we aren’t informed, We The People can’t call bulls**t on our leaders when they try to sell us a load of just that. Is it any wonder that we have abandoned our traditional news sources and turned to blogs and the Internet looking for a spark of gonzo in a sea of mediocrity?
It wasn’t just Brian Williams taking the hit from Jon Stewart, it was the entire broadcast news industry he represents.
We don’t just need another Walter Cronkite today, we need a herd of Cronkites. Sure, Jon Stewart is a start, but his brand of truth and gonzo journalism is too easily dismissed for being wrapped in comedy (even though laughing at the absurdity of it all is about the only way to maintain one’s sanity). Because every day Cronkite’s shoes remain empty, we’re all suffering the consequences.