If people like John Oliver and Jon Stewart were not only going to benefit from the low quality of cable news but lean into it by making satirical news programs based on some amount of authentic research, they could at least have been up front about it. If they’re more like real news than what we call the news, they’re basically news programs too. But because of how cable ratings work, these corporate conglomerates which own everything from informative programs to pure entertainment don’t peg any nuance on why people are watching programs. They’re only tracking how many people are watching the program.
So, to compete with one another, the quality of comedy shows becomes more like that of news programs, and the quality of news programs has become more like that of comedy/variety/talk shows. By not acknowledging that for business-related reasons their shows are doing real if not legitimate journalism, these comedians as writers and producers preclude themselves from having to be held to the standards the public holds other types news of media to. However, if we for reasons of prestige don’t acknowledge the obvious reality, that these shows function as a source of news for millions of people, then that leaves the quality news programs in a sector where they’re not just competing against low-quality news, but all manner of broadcast video entertainment as well. When all shows which talk about current events are optimized for how enjoyable rather than how informative they are, the shows which were trying to be truly informative lose their competitive edge. They become neglected and irrelevant.
The Venn Diagram of “information” and “entertainment” for non-fictional video media is now a circle. There is only fake news, i.e., the normal media, pretending to be real news, and real news, i.e., facts, pretending to be fake news, i.e., presented in a manner optimizing for entertainment instead of quality. What’s more is because there is no standard of credibility any more is that the glow of respectability from teams like those of John Oliver and Jon Stewart which have actually on occasion done excellent coverage of current events extends to other celebrities. Any famous person is now as equally entitled to an opinion on politics or culture as any other. Credentials don’t include a history of experience, association with any particular type of institution, or educational background. What news media qualifies as what opinions to share not unlike an editorial are entirely based on how popular a person is on a given day. And that’s it.
Now you’ve got a half dozen shows doing all the same things, but they just consolidate liberal biases in the eyes of millions of people who’d be better off in a world where investigative journalism like 60 Minutes tailored to match the tastes of young people existed. All these other shows suck way more than what Jon Stewart was doing. Trevor Noah is not nearly as good a host as Jon Stewart on any dimension I or others seem to care about.
This all coalesces in how Hollywood celebrities as a cabal functioned as more of a propaganda machine for a political candidate not themselves from the arts establishment more than any time in recent memory: Hillary Clinton in 2016. There are other major factors which play into the ugly, amorphous blob that just is all infotainment and celebrity culture, like social media. But I’ve read articles about those. I’ve not seen anyone acknowledge the unique role comedians like Jon Stewart played in shifting the political climate and the nature of public discourse in the contemporary Anglosphere. There’s the one thing Jon Stewart was keeping in mind as a goal even as his other goals were noble, that he didn’t disclose. Because he’s so shaped and influenced our expectations of what news ought to be like, he should acknowledge what corporate media ownership forces him to do. Ultimately, more than to either inform or entertain, The Daily Show and all shows on TV like it have the goal of earning money for their producers and advertisers. After all, it’s show business.