Jon Stewart, mass kidnapping and short attention spans

Before he leaves “The Daily Show” for good, Jon Stewart could have a field day with the bead-clutching that’s taking place in the hours since he announced he’s leaving the program.

“What Walter Cronkite was to an earlier generation, Stewart is to Millennials,” the Boston Globe’s critic writes today.

The assessment ignores the differences in how we consume and what we expect from “news.”

More than anything else, we want to be entertained by it.

While Twitter was lighting up last evening with the Stewart (and Brian Williams) news, this incredible story was airing among relative disinterest on PBS NewsHour.

The hundreds of girls missing in the mass kidnapping by Boko Haram are still missing. Only now, months after the world’s outrage mobilized today’s generation of news watchers to action — creating a hashtag on Twitter — nobody gives a damn.

It’s hard to make the mass kidnapping of women funny.

“Jon Stewart’s departure is a loss to real news,” the Associated Press writes today. As if that’s what we’re interested in.

  • MrE85

    “…nobody gives a damn.”
    Other than the producers of a nationally broadcast American television newscast, who dedicated 4 minutes of airtime to once again cover the story.

    • Yeah, other than them.

      Good distraction from an obvious point, Bob.

      Interesting that the one comment — one! — attached to the story is an anti-Michelle Obama point.

      • MrE85

        I think the problem is indifference and inaction in Nigeria, not in Minnesota. I could create a hashtag on that, but it won’t help rescue the missing girls, or stop the reported recent destruction of villages attributed to Boko Haram. It’s true that American’s outrage has a short shelf life. Then again, there is so much to be outraged about.

        • See above.

          But you highlight a general attitude about how Americans view world news, which is also why world news is such a small part of the U.S. news diet.

          • MrE85

            We don’t really give a d***, about the coup in South Sudan. Different counties, different races. We don’t care until it’s in our faces. (which won’t be long now)

          • Dave

            Is it that we don’t give a damn, or is it also that the United States cannot fix every injustice dujour, and should not be expected to? Things go wrong when we try to do that.

          • MrE85

            True. And things go wrong when we don’t. It’s a complex and troubled world.

          • Well, true. It’s not like a president didn’t once try to tie human rights to foreign policy.

          • Jack

            There is no self interest for the US to be involved. Now if these women who were kidnapped were tied to oil, weapons ect, something the US wanted then this would be front and center. Unfortunately, this will be swept under the rug like so many others and you wouldn’t believe how much dirt has accumulated under that rug. .

          • Jack

            Thank big money, scholarships and boosting for that one. People won’t give a damn until it is in their face; you are right about that. When you invite violent families to live in your neighborhood these types of things will eventually happen.
            Every scheme they have created to control their position at the top will reflect back on them. A reaction to their action but for once justice will be served for the good of all instead of the few.

      • Jack

        I think Jon Stewart realized he was another distraction to a solution. He was the morning supplement to Millennial breakfast toast and Starbucks. Guilt.

  • hajitaki

    I’m a huge supporter of MPR and rarely post online comments, but this post is so annoying, it compelled me to post. It completely underestimates the influence Jon Stewart had on my generation in getting interested in news in the first place. The
    Daily Show actually covered Boko Haram and other global atrocities bringing
    attention to issues that mainstream news routinely ignores. And he did news
    analysis, not mere entertainment. Same with Stephen Colbert. So, yes, his
    departure, believe it or not, is a major loss to real news, esp for millenials,
    even if it disturbs the ego of “real news” sources.

    • Kind of missed the point.

      Also, nobody is going to leave the “entertain the Millennials while informing that of the news” market. It’s only going to expand as John Oliver has proven. And someone else will fill Stewart’s position.

      It’s not the end of the world.

      Not like being kidnapped by Boko Haram, anyway.

      • Dave

        I’m sensing manufactured outrage here. You are non-plussed because people got all hot and bothered about Jon Stewart, but they fail to remain at PEAK hot-and-bother about Boko Haram. And our perceived unwillingness to grapple with the enormous and super depressing questions surrounding BH implies a short attention span and other things unbecoming of humanity.

        I don’t see the connection between the two things.

        As for Stewart being solely entertainment, various data suggest that regular Daily Show viewers are more correctly informed about issues than Fox News viewers. Not that I would suggest that Fox isn’t also entertainment.

        • I wouldn’t say that. I’m pointing to the fact that while we obsess over how we get our news, we pay scant attention to how we process it and what we do with it.

  • Dave

    A lot of people watch Jon Stewart every day. They are not involved with Boko Haram every day, and frankly, not everyone wants to be outraged 24/7. What do you want the masses to do about Boko Haram?

    • That’s kind of a classic dodge. That depends. What do you want to stand for?

      You have to remember that after the kidnapping there were several good discussions that focused on the fact the United States doesn’t have an operating philosophy when it comes to defending human rights.

      Is it worth getting one? Who would be responsible for pressing the government on that? And how might that be done?

      I get that people think Boko Haram isn’t a U.S. issue. But those people are generally misinformed and generally hiding behind the “we can’t do anything about it” position.

  • Dave

    Why can’t both things be covered? Why are you so sure that people aren’t covering Boko Haram because they are instead covering Jon Stewart? If he hadn’t retired yesterday, would Boko Haram have been front page news? No? Then why are you conflating these stories?

    I, for one, read and heard about Boko Haram yesterday, and also felt sad that Stewart was retiring. I know, what a shock!

    You’ve made it clear you don’t like millennials or Jon Stewart, which is fine (and even expected from the cranky old man set), but I don’t see what ties these two stories together.

    • //Why are you so sure that people aren’t covering Boko Haram because they are instead covering Jon Stewart?

      There are enough declarative sentences in the post to preclude making up one that you’d like me to respond to.

      I would recommend you start with this one on the subject of news:

      “More than anything else, we want to be entertained by it.”

      // You’ve made it clear you don’t like millennials or Jon Stewart.

      That’s an astoundingly ridiculous and absurd assertion that appears to be designed to distract from an otherwise intelligent discussion.

      So let me try it again. The Jon Stewart story isn’t about how the news is delivered so much as it is about how we consume and process it. And how we interract with it.

      BTW, I would say Jon Stewart is closer to Jack Parr than Walter Cronkite. Parr was also brilliant.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        I think Stewart would be the first to agree with your last statement. The issue is that he is a compelling storyteller and most of today’s network/cable anchors aren’t. I don’t know if its a misplaced sense of “objectivity” or just fear of going out on a limb.

  • Chris

    I’m having a hard time understanding the sweeping generalizations in this post: “More than anything else, we want to be entertained by it”…and “nobody gives a damn”. I think the rise of Jon Stewart was a reaction to Fox. Mainstream media lost some credibility: Judith Miller, Freidman units, Jayson Blair, stories seeking “balance” where there was none, just political talking points.

    The Star Tribune is doing well, MPR is doing well. There are plenty of sources for news without much entertainment value. I don’t really watch TV news, or Jon Stewart, though, so a consumer of TV news might see things differently.

    Long before twitter, Jon Stewart, and Boko Harum, bad things happened, some of them got reported, and still we couldn’t stop them all. I guess I don’t understand the harrumpfing use of the word generation in the post. Don’t people of all ages and generations consume news and entertainment and contribute to public discourse?

    • That so few give a damn about the ongoing Boko Harum story isn’t The Daily Show’s fault. On the other hand, it does show the limitation on entertainment to spoon feed news to people (of whatever generation).

      Comedy has a short shelf like and you can’t recycle it, so unless someone is giving you new material, there’s not much you can do with it.

      But let’s face it, Daily Show uses primarily Fox and CNN as the basis for its comedy, and appropriately so. I don’t expect to see Jon Stewart making fun of PBS NewsHour as a way to introduce people to the fact we have a short attention span.

      And yet, on those occasions when Stewart has invoked Boko Harum, it was to make the point that we don’t give a damn. Only it does so by pointing out that the “mainstream media” didn’t give a damn. But really, it’s about us. So these two points are not inconsistent.

      But also, I think we have to acknowledge that while people want to frame Daily Show by comparing it to “mainstream media,” the definition of mainstream media is fairly limited here: TV. And, mostly 24/7 cable news channels.

      That’s a questionable basis on which to have the wider discussion because it’s a pretty safe bet that Jon Stewart and the writers start their day with a stack of newspapers. And that whatever they know about news in the world, they probably learned from someone who is often dismissed as irrelevant in the Daily Show era.

      Really, that’s why Jon Stewart tries so hard to point out that he’s a comedian and why he is incredulous still at the insistence of his fans that he’s not.

      To the generational point, I think it’s a valid one in terms of what moves us to action. We do so primarily via social networks and we create a hashtag or we change our avatars.

      The Mideast uprisings of a couple of years ago are a good example.

      We do so with the noblest of intentions, perhaps, but the reality is that once we realize that things are more complicated than that, we move on to other things and causes that play more to our ability to synthesize it a couple of words.

      In truth, that’s not a generational thing either. We used to use car bumpers for that.

      But the beauty of Jon Stewart is he holds a mirror up to us and gets people to think they’re laughing at someone else.

  • Gary F

    “Hashtag campaigns” so people can feel like they are doing “something”.

    Yup, Jon Stewart is real “news” for the millennial generation and many on the left.

    I can see him taking over Brian William’s spot. If this happens, NBC can no longer be called a news organization.

    • He’s hardly the first entertainer to get a devoted following based on his program’s adherence to the daily news cycle.

      • Gary F

        Nope, but with youth today not reading the dead tree newspapers or watching the dying big 3 ABC/NBC/CBS evening news and getting their news from Stewart, Buzzfeed, and Yahoo news they are truly becoming “low information” voters.

        • The echo chamber approach to news consumption, though, isn’t generational but it does appear to be cultural.

          Keep in mind, in this country, most people can’t name all three branches of government. One fourth of people can’t name the country from which the U.S. declared its independence.

          In the obsession with who gives us the news, what’s lost is any analysis with how we process it.

          At the heart of all of this, too, is our obsession with celebrity.