Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show' Legacy: Changing How Americans See Satire Jon Stewart hosts his last episode of The Daily Show tonight, after 16 years as TV's satirist supreme. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says Stewart's barbs changed how people talk about politics and media.

Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show' Legacy: Changing How Americans See Satire

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After 16 years of satirizing politics and the news business, tonight "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart says goodbye. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans takes a look at how "The Daily Show" changed the way we look at politics and the media.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Robert Barnett is a powerhouse Washington lawyer who sits at the nexus of politics and media. He's brokered everything from President Bill Clinton's book deal to NBC News anchor Brian Williams's move to MSNBC. Many of his high-profile clients have appeared on "The Daily Show," and he laments to its departure.

ROBERT BARNETT: It's amazing that this 2016 election will be the first election since Dole-Clinton in 1996 that we haven't had Jon Stewart.

DEGGANS: Barnett says, through his satire, Jon Stewart informed Americans about their government and their media.

BARNETT: He's more like an H.L. Mencken, someone who causes you to think about serious things but does so in an insightful and entertaining way.

DEGGANS: One minute Stewart might stage a debate on the war in Iraq using sound bites from President George W. Bush's first term to counter sound bites from Bush's second term.


GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours.

JON STEWART: Wow. Deadlines. Tough talk. Mr. second-term president?

BUSH: Doesn't make any sense have a timetable.


DEGGANS: Next he might grill President Obama over Democrats' fading electoral chances in 2010.


STEWART: You ran on very high rhetoric - hope and change. And the Democrats this year seem to be running on, please, baby, one more chance.



LIZZ WINSTEAD: Jon was the voice of the viewer.

DEGGANS: "Daily Show" co-creator Lizz Winstead says Stewart reflected the frustration of the viewer.

WINSTEAD: I think the viewer could be more invested in it because they saw somebody who was speaking for them as they also observe the absurdity of the day.

DEGGANS: Winstead helped develop the show in 1996 with original host Craig Kilborn, a former ESPN anchor who read jokes written for him. She left "The Daily Show" by the time Stewart succeeded Kilborn in 1999. Winstead said Stewart took control of the writing and sharpened its focus as a news junkie with a nose for hypocrisy. Here he skewers CNBC business commentator Jim Cramer in 2009 for not uncovering the practices that led to the financial crisis.


STEWART: You knew what the banks were doing and yet were touting it for months and months. The entire network was. And so now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best.

WINSTEAD: Jon Stewart's power is partially because all the other parts of the media have been derelict in actually doing their job.

DEGGANS: But some journalists say they haven't earned all the criticism they're getting. CNN anchor Don Lemon is a frequent target.

DON LEMON: They are taking short clips and short segments out of hours and hours and hours, and sometimes days and days and weeks, of news coverage.

DEGGANS: Lemon was lampooned when he covered a snowstorm in New York from a vehicle dubbed the blizzardmobile.


STEWART: Blizzardmobile?


STEWART: Settle down Batman, it's a Ford Explorer.


DEGGANS: But Lemon resisted the idea that Stewart targeted CNN's journalism. Rather, "The Daily Show" took aim at CNN because of its relevance.

LEMON: I actually think that Jon Stewart criticizes CNN more because he watches more, and because I think he wants us to be better and I think he likes us.

DEGGANS: Tough as it is to be the butt of "The Daily Show's" jokes, sometimes writing them can be difficult too. Beth Littleford was on the show from its inception through Stewart's first year. She said working on the show could be hard on women because so few women worked there.

BETH LITTLEFORD: I think it was hard on women. I think it was a real revolving door. Women couldn't please him.

DEGGANS: Still, she credits Stewart with turning "The Daily Show" into a household name. And at the same time, he taught a generation of viewers how to understand the emerging hybrid form of comedy and information.

LITTLEFORD: I think it's changed, yeah, the voice of how people talk about things and the things you could put on the air, and the things people understand on the air. They understand satire in a new way, I think.

DEGGANS: That is Jon Stewart's most enduring legacy. He showed a nation of viewers who always suspected politicians and media of hypocrisy that they had it right all along. I'm Eric Deggans.

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