Another Accolade for Jon Stewart: Now He’s the New Cronkite

by | December 28, 2010 at 12:59 PM | The Daily Show, TV News

Jon Stewart (Brad Barket/Getty Images)

Jon Stewart (Brad Barket/Getty Images)

Now they’re placing Jon Stewart up there with two legends of TV journalism – Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

This new level of praise for Stewart is stemming from his advocacy earlier this month in favor of federal aid for 9/11 “first responders” who are now suffering from a variety of ailments from their exposure to toxic materials at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center in New York.

The campaign he waged on “The Daily Show” is being credited by many – including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs – for breaking a logjam in the Senate (caused mainly by Republicans who stood in the way) that led to the passing of the funding measure a few days before Christmas.

Media observers have noted for some years now how the line between journalism and comedy has been blurred, if not erased, over the last decade or so, as research shows an increasing number of people getting their daily news fix from comedians such as Jay Leno and his “Tonight Show” monologue and Stewart and his “Daily Show.”

Stewart’s nightly show on Comedy Central is mounted 99.9 percent of the time as a parody newscast designed as a sarcastic, satirical reaction to issues and figures in the news. But Stewart was deadly serious in his championing of the funds for first-responders, even having four of them on as guests.

Watch Stewart’s Interview With The 9/11 First Responders:

As a result, Stewart is drawing comparisons to Murrow, the hard-boiled World War II correspondent and CBS News star of the 1950s, and Cronkite, the most famous news anchor in the history of television (also on CBS).

“The two [names] that come instantly to mind are Murrow and Cronkite,” Syracuse University’s Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture, told The New York Times. Thompson cited Murrow because historians have long credited the chain-smoking newsman with helping, at least in part, to derail the anti-Communist crusade of Sen. Joseph McCarthy with his hard-hitting news reports and documentaries. And Cronkite’s negative view of the Vietnam War – which he voiced in 1968 – supposedly led President Lyndon Johnson to complain that he’d “lost Cronkite,” and, as a result, had lost support from the public too.

“He so pithily articulated the argument that once it was made, it was really hard to do anything else,” Thompson said of Stewart.

Really, professor? Thompson makes an intriguing comparison here, but other than this one instance in which Stewart apparently made a real difference in the debate over an emotional national issue, how is he really like Murrow and Cronkite? They spent their entire adult lives in journalism, and their careers were forged in the crucible of World War II. Stewart’s a very able comedian and satirist, but can he really be compared to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite?

And can it really be demonstrated that Jon Stewart’s attention to this issue influenced the U.S. Senate to get off its duff and approve this measure? If so, it’s the first we’ve heard that our senators are taking their cues from “The Daily Show.”

What do you think? Is Stewart the new Cronkite? Or, to put it another way, is comedy the new journalism?