No modern media critic has gained the prominence and influence that Jon Stewart enjoys. By dint of his broad distribution, copious resources and acerbic wit, the "Daily Show" host has built his career by flagging missteps from newsmakers and the journalists who report on them.

But now it's his turn in the hot seat. As Stewart prepares to host his last show today, Poynter asked six media and TV reporters to evaluate the comedian's impact as a media referee and his legacy of calling out journalistic misdeeds.

Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.
Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.

Brian Stelter, senior media correspondent at CNN and host of "Reliable Sources"

What were Stewart's successes as a media critic?
There's no doubt that Stewart was innovative. In my mind, his biggest contribution to media criticism was his creative wielding of video clips.

Over the years, embarrassing montages of politicians and anchors became more and more of a trademark of "The Daily Show." That's thanks to technological improvements but also thanks to Stewart's talented staffers. And I sure hope it's something that doesn't go away when Stewart goes.

His shortcomings?
Cheap shots and some preaching to the choir.

Do you feel he had latitude to say things you didn't, to have an impact with satire you couldn't as a journalist?

Certainly. I think that's true for anyone who identifies as a comedian.

What's sometimes under-appreciated, I think, is this: There's always been a symbiotic relationship between Stewart and the mainstream news media.

Stewart needs our raw material. And occasionally we all need a good haranguing by Stewart.

Do you think he elevated the standard of media criticism? Changed it in some way?

I'd go back to the use of video clips and his large video library...I think that's going to have a lasting effect.

Were you ever a target of Stewart's? What did you take away from that experience?

I don't remember being a target per se, but I do remember my face popping up on a few of the shows. There's a brief moment of terror whenever it happens.

Sometimes I yell at the screen in disagreement when Stewart takes aim at television news. But much more often I laugh in agreement, and I'd venture to say that most others in the industry do, too.

Brian Stelter surfaces on "The Daily Show," eliciting a "brief moment of terror" from CNN's senior media correspondent. (Screenshot from "The Daily Show" via Brian Stelter.
Brian Stelter surfaces on "The Daily Show," eliciting a "brief moment of terror" from CNN's senior media correspondent. (Screenshot from "The Daily Show" via Brian Stelter.)

 

Erik Wemple, media reporter and opinion blogger at The Washington Post

What were Stewart's successes as a media critic?
Archival completeness. Whenever a network – particularly Fox News – sought to hammer its opponents, Stewart and his cable-news-obsessed staff could dig up the clips to show that it was in fact engaging in a double standard. No example is more powerful than the recent episode in which Stewart hit Fox News for complaining that people were talking about gun control too quickly; Stewart showed that some of those same people were blaming Mayor de Blasio for the murderous violence against cops late last year, again too quickly.

Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.
Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.

What were his shortcomings?
His brand of media crit depended on images, meaning that he didn’t often take after newspapers and other print vehicles.

Do you feel he had latitude to say things you didn't, to have an impact with satire you couldn't as a journalist?
I don’t feel constrained at all, though Stewart had a genius and a staff that the Erik Wemple Blog doesn’t have.

Do you think he elevated the standard of media criticism? Changed it in some way?
He was very effective with his media criticism, though saying he elevated the craft may be going a bit too far. Not so sure he changed the pursuit that much; what I’ve learned in this job is that everyone is a media critic; everyone. I think that Stewart exemplified the universality of media criticism, showing that a program can essentially thrive with it as a cornerstone of its work.
 
Eric Deggans, NPR TV critic

What were Stewart's successes as a media critic?
He very effectively used media's own reporting and words to highlight the hypocrisy and growing superficiality of journalism, especially on television. And by serving as the voice of his audience, Stewart reinforced the growing sense among smart viewers that media often let itself get distracted or defanged by its own short sighted tendencies.

Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.
Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.

What were his shortcomings?
When challenged about some of his stances or actions, Stewart often falls back on saying he's just a comic. But he knows people react to his comedy beyond just laughing; they see him as an important guide to decoding the workings of modern media and hearing about the latest outrage in politics or journalism. He doesn't have to be fair in the way journalists do, so he can present his take on an issue without allowing the subject of the joke to present their side. And when he does something that seems counter to his Everyman image -- like under-the-radar meetings with the president or having tough arguments with his writers about jokes on race -- he can joke away the questions and insist it is not his role to explain his actions in the way he expects politicians and journalists to do.

Do you feel he had latitude to say things you didn't, to have an impact with satire you couldn't as a journalist?
As I noted above, Stewart's greatest strength is that he doesn't have to be fair. So he can focus on the funniest, most dysfunctional elements of something to make his joke, without worrying about whether that joke fairly presents the entire situation. And he doesn't have to ask the target of his jokes to explain their actions or include their side. All that said, he still makes incredibly insightful commentary about media and politics that often outweighs the moments when he takes advantage of not having to be fair.

Do you think he elevated the standard of media criticism? Changed it in some way?
He presented a more detailed and sophisticated type of media criticism that was also accessible by lots of people and immediately understandable. He was able to make people care about the media failings he was highlighting in a way that few critics could manage.
 

Paul Farhi, Washington Post media reporter

What were Stewart's successes as a media critic?
Stewart, and "The Daily Show," have been the best media critics in America, TV division, for many years. Colbert was a close second, and Oliver gets the bronze. Stewart and "The Daily Show" perfected the "impeachment" clip — showing a politician or source saying one thing at one point and the opposite at a later point. It’s a simple but devastating device and he and the program used it very effectively almost every night. It’s one thing for a print/text reporter to say so-and-so has said contradictory things; it’s quite another to show it. TV news does some of this (probably thanks to Stewart and "The Daily Show"), but not enough. And, of course, Stewart and "The Daily Show" have been really funny while doing it. Funny + pointed + on top of the news = really great satire.

Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.
Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.

What were his shortcomings?
I think he was soft on his friends (Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams), and I tend to agree with the criticism that he was tougher on Republicans and conservatives than on Dems and liberals (though liberal and Dems did catch it from him, too). It’s also long been noted that he likes having it both ways (who doesn’t?) by making serious political points while disclaiming any accountability because, after all, I’m just a comedian on basic cable. Less noted, I think, is that Stewart was a pretty terrible interviewer. He liked talking at his guests and scoring points far more than listening to them (and again, he was noticeably more skeptical and critical of conservatives than of liberals). Just as bad: His interviews with celebs promoting their latest movie or TV project were really no less fawning than the smarmiest TV entertainment-promotion program.

Do you feel he had latitude to say things you didn't, to have an impact with satire you couldn't as a journalist?
There’s no question he had more latitude than a media *reporter* (I’m not a critic). This is, in part, because a) there was no expectation of impartiality on his part (he could take any position or point of view he and his writers desired); and b) because they’re trying to be funny. Pretty obvious, but satire and comedy provide a lot more opportunities for exaggeration than reporting a bunch of boring old facts.

Do you think he elevated the standard of media criticism? Changed it in some way?
He elevated the standard in media criticism only insofar as he showed it could be funny and entertaining and thus for mass consumption. Media critics are often deadly serious, and perhaps they should be, but that’s never going to be mass-market TV. There’s no way a bunch of media critics sitting around dissecting the news every night would ever sustain a large audience (or whatever you call Stewart’s audience) on a daily basis. Stewart’s value-added was making media criticism funny and witty, and thus widely palatable. He made many people aware of, and prompted them to think about, what the news media does. That’s a hell of an achievement and a hell of a legacy.
 

Tracie Powell, Founder of AllDigitocracy.org

What were Stewart's successes as a media critic?
He, oftentimes, found really clear ways to cut through the bull that all too often stymies journalists. Stewart isn't restricted by such lofty things as ethics or false standards of balance, like many journalists are. So he was able to tell it like it is. That's what loyal viewers like me really appreciated about his brand of "news" criticism.

Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.
Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.

What were his shortcomings?
Exiting the stage too soon. Come on! Donald Trump is a front-runner for the Republican Party. I mean, not even Stewart can make up stuff this good.

Seriously, I think the recent podcast that Wyatt Cenac did about his falling-out with Jon Stewart over race tarnished Stewart's reputation a bit, particularly among African Americans. At the same time, he's done so much to elevate black comedians: Larry Wilmore, his replacement Trevor Noah, Jessica Williams, Michael Che, and Wyatt Cenac himself. I think the way he's worked to elevate women and comedians of color will stand out in most people's minds. But Cenac's interview with Marc Maron still stings a little. Not bad enough to leave a scar, but it still hurt a teeny, weeny bit.

Do you feel he had latitude to say things you didn't, to have an impact with satire you couldn't as a journalist?
As a white male, Stewart is privileged to be able to say a lot of things I, as a black woman journalist, cannot say. Well, I can say them, but the words wouldn't carry the same impact with many white members of his audience. Let's be clear, I think we as journalists still have an impact, Stewart's impact is just a different kind of impact, a much wider impact that many of today's journalists wish they had.

Do you think he elevated the standard of media criticism? Changed it in some way?
I think so. Now you have all of these followers in his footsteps, both black, white, Muslim, women. Really good comedians that Stewart has groomed. Those who have their own shows now, and have moved on to network shows. Stewart definitely opened the door for viewers to hear criticism from more diverse perspectives: Trevor Noah is a black South African. It took Saturday Night Live decades to put black women on the show: Stewart, on the other hand, helped make Jessica Williams a household name; I can't name any of the black women on Saturday Night Live. They just aren't all that funny to me.

But Jessica Williams, that girl is as hilarious and honest as her mentor. So did Stewart elevate the standard? Maybe. More significantly, I think it's safe to say that Stewart helped to change the standard. News media could stand to learn a lot from Jon Stewart when it comes to diversity. Stewart's not perfect, but didn't just talk the talk either. He actually showed media that diversity is just as good, and just as funny, and a whole lot more relevant and interesting than the same old white man sitting behind an anchor desk, real or fake.
 
Verne Gay, Newsday television critic

What were Stewart's successes as a media critic?
He was a spectacular media critic — and brutal, and insightful, and (I think) quite often constructive. Most critics are preoccupied with opinion, rightly so, and he has been as well, but I certainly think he had a sense of how facts should be conveyed and stories reported. He understood, I think, the fundamental basis of good journalism — getting facts and getting balance.

Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.
Photo illustration by Gurman Bhatia. Original photo via AP Images.

What were his shortcomings?
Stewart is a comedian foremost, and so his interests were and very much remain in the primacy of the joke. He did not care so much about "balance" or "fairness" or a sustained development of an idea that he felt had been misrepresented or misreported elsewhere. I'm not sure that's a fault, as much a condition of simply being a comedian...

Another shortcoming — a fixation on Fox News. FNC simply became the go to joke, day after day, year after year. Tom Junod wrote somewhere, I think Esquire, "another Daily Show, another attack on Fox," or words to that effect. There was plenty of other nonsense going on elsewhere, but his fixation on Fox occasionally obscured that.

Do you feel he had latitude to say things you didn't, to have an impact with satire you couldn't as a journalist?
Yes — especially with language. Certainly vulgarity was a core part of the Stewart attack, and it ain't part of mine — and could not be. But again, just to be clear, I am a TV critic for Newsday. I am not a comedian for Comedy Central, and Jon Stewart simply does something that no other professional critic does, so there is a certain apples/oranges aspect to your question.

Do you think he elevated the standard of media criticism? Changed it in some way?
That's a good question — it really is — and I'm not entirely sure how to answer it. Again, I think the guy is brilliant and I do believe he was an immensely valuable voice, as someone who was both funny, but deeply serious. But I think that the guy was (and is) a comedian and satirist; to call him a "media critic" is somewhat misleading because while he often targeted media, he targeted politicians too — the GOP above all — and therefore was a political satirist in the vein of a Mencken or Liebling (who was also a media critic).

But let me leave it at this: Sure, why not. He "elevated" the craft of media criticism by making it funny, and smart, and — above all — by forcing viewers to be suspicious of what passes for "objective information" on television news. He absolutely elevated that.

Some of the responses have been edited and condensed.