Jon Stewart's remarks about the hosts of CNN's "Crossfire," and, by implication, about all hosts of cable talk shows that provide controversy more than enlightenment, political rants more than thoughtful analysis, is important in large part because of how much attention is being paid to those remarks, and what that attention indicates.
Primarily, it indicates how well-respected Stewart is these days.
Which, in turn, indicates how little respect many Americans have for conventional sources of news — the network evening newscasts, the "gray lady" type of newspapers. As polls indicate, and have indicated for many years, traditional journalists are regarded about as highly as traditional telemarketers. But the need for information exists as strongly as ever; thus, people unhappy with the run-of-the-mill reporter are turning to people like Stewart. He might proclaim himself a fake newsman, but at the same time he exhibits an intelligent skepticism with real newsmen, and the politicians who spin them so adroitly. He is, then, a perfect spokesman for the intelligent and skeptical viewer, so disenchanted with the real newsman's products.
What Stewart said about "Crossfire" hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson is a perfect example. He said what a lot of people think. He said what a conventional journalist would never dare say. And he said what the cable ranters say so frequently: that their comments have lost any meaning by now. The Stewart comments were, as far as I know, his first foray into hard-edged, punch-line-less media criticism. It was something new for him, and therefore all the more attention-getting.
And deservedly so.
Eric Burns serves as the host of "FOX News Watch" and is the recipient of an Emmy Award for media criticism.