New Journal of Communication article

Just who does Jon Stewart think he is? Or, perhaps, just who do journalists think Jon Stewart is? It is really the second question that guides a study newly Imagepublished in the Journal of Communication. I set out with Jason Peifer, now at Ohio State, to make sense of all the hubbub surrounding Stewart’s role in the Rally to Restore Sanity and his support of the Zadroga bill on The Daily Show. What we found was, on the surface, confusion as to whether Stewart was metamorphosing into some sort of political activist. He remains, of course, a satirist first and foremost, but these twin actions drew a lot of attention to Stewart. What is more interesting is not just the individualized assessments of one comedian but the larger question of what we called discursive responsibility. Stewart represents the extension of mediated voices able to talk about current events–a role traditionally reserved by journalists. Journalists had come to terms, for the most part, with the clownish Stewart, but the more serious Stewart–the “earnest” Stewart–opened up new conversations about who should speak, and how they should speak. We draw quite a bit on earnestness as an interesting discursive stance; in a normative sense, journalists rarely ascribe to earnestness as a value. And yet here is Stewart dropping, however momentarily, his buffoonery to be serious and earnest. In the end, this episode becomes about setting boundaries about how one should speak in public.

About Matt Carlson

Associate Professor of Communication Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication University of Minnesota
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