Jon Stewart: Edward R. Murrow Incarnate, or Something Else Entirely?

"Daily Show" host Jon Stewart sees new scrutiny after 9/11 bill passes.

ByABC News
December 27, 2010, 8:46 AM

Dec. 27, 2010 — -- Jon Stewart: modern day Murrow or schizophrenic satirist?

That question (or something like it) is on the minds of many people after a New York Times article published today likened the "Daily Show" host to advocate newsmen of another era, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

The breakdown:

On Dec. 16, Stewart interviewed a panel of 9/11 first responders suffering from the effects of the disaster; last week, the House and Senate passed a bill to funnel federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law. In 1968, Cronkite spoke out about the stalemate in the Vietnam War; a month later, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. In 1954, Murrow criticized the "Red Scare" tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy; thereafter, McCarthy's popularity and influence rapidly declined.

For some, the comparison between the Comedy Central host and the television news giants seems obvious.

"I think it's incredibly apt," said Rachel Sklar, editor-at-large of the blog Mediaite. "There's no question that Jon Stewart has used his platform to advance, strongly, what he thinks is right."

For others, it's hopelessly flawed.

"It is childish, it is garbage, it is ignorant garbage," said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. "[Stewart] is not a news person. He's a satirist and when he chooses to be blunt, he has the luxury of being blunt."

In Gitlin's view, Cronkite ("the straightest of straight reporters") and Murrow stepped up for their respective causes "very late," and affirmed already existing public opinions. Beyond that, they played a role in society that cannot be filled in the current era of DVR and Dish and blogs and Twitter and insert-name-of-latest-must-have-gadget-here. Then, there were three channels. Now, there are thousands. (Just try to count the number of talking heads on the air at any given moment.)