Late-night cable comedian Jon Stewart announced he would be leaving The Daily Show on Tuesday night’s broadcast, and Democrats are not too happy. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising email Wednesday asking supporters to “Sign our card for Jon Stewart.”…

“The Daily Show set the bar for making politics funny, combining hard-hitting news analysis with a large dose of humor,” reads the DSCC’s email. “In his nearly two decades on the air, Jon has never been afraid to take hypocritical politicians and their outrageous agendas to task. We’ll miss looking forward to 11 p.m. on weeknights to see how he responds to the day’s news.”

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Jon Stewart stepping down as host of The Daily Show is paramount to Walter Cronkite stepping down from CBS News.

He is to a generation, the oracle of truth. While certainly left leaning, he always exposed fraud for fraud and called out those who needed it most, with a wry smile and raised eyebrow…

That said, he HAS to do a new version of his show for this generation the way it could and should be done — direct to consumers. He could raise any amount of money to do it and it would be an historic movement, in the way Howard Stern moving to Sirius was a decade ago…

I’d pay him $100m a year to go direct and give him equity in his own version of what Viacom is today.

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“The Daily Show” has always drawn a relatively small but influential audience in the world of late night, averaging 2.1 million total viewers so far this season, according to Nielsen. But the show has always been highly attractive to advertisers for its ability to consistently pull in the elusive young male audience in the 18-34 demographic.

However, the arrival of Jimmy Fallon at the “Tonight” show on NBC has upset this steady state of affairs of late. While last season, “The Daily Show” was the clear winner among all viewers in the 18-34 demographic with 629,000 viewers by this point in the season, this year it has seen that demographic drop off by 22% so far this season, while Mr. Fallon’s “Tonight” has pulled ahead—up 36%—to 519,000 viewers in that demographic.

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Jon Stewart announced Wednesday that he will step down from the his “Daily Show” hosting duties sometime this year or early next. The unbiased, objective, not-at-all liberal media is already deep in mourning. With Stewart gone, the media know they are losing a vital weapon in the arsenal they use to destroy conservatives

In exchange for more than 15  years of constant reassurance that they are absolutely right about absolutely everything — from their flyover prejudices, to their love of Obama, to the righteousness of an oppressive federal government — the media offered Stewart an out-sized influence compared to his meager ratings. The benefits to the media were also massive.

On a consistent basis, year after year after year, Stewart regularly gifted his Media Masters with ammunition in the form of video clips that eviscerated conservatives and conservative ideas as stupid, crazy, selfish, or racist.  Without fail, Stewart supplied and re-supplied the media with video-cannon balls aimed at the Tea Party, and anyone who dared investigate the scandals or question the disastrous left-wing policies of The Precious…

And because Uncle Jon always did what was expected of him — like use the current Brian Williams scandal as a vehicle to *yawn* bring back the good old days of Bush bashing, wished into the media cornfield was the fact that Uncle Jon regularly drew fewer viewers than Mike Huckabee and reruns of “The Family Guy.”

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It’s true that his brand of satire was fresher during the Bush era (just as Rush Limbaugh’s was fresher during the Clinton era), and that he had a habit of scoring political points when expedient, and then using his status as “Just a comedian” as a get-out-of-jail-free card. (Okay, it’s not like he patented the “Just an entertainer” line of defense.)

It’s also true that he doesn’t exactly leave behind a legacy as a reformer with results. As Will Rahn noted, for all the talk about how he was standing up to the bullshit cable news programming, it arguably got more vapid during his tenure at Comedy Central

Was Jon Stewart a great comedian or a partisan hack? The answer, of course, is yes.

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The coming hosannas for the show will choose to overlook two particularly weak traits that seemed more prominent as the show progressed through the Obama years. We can argue about whether the show was sufficiently tough on Obama or treated the president and his administration with kid gloves, particularly in the first term. But on any given weeknight, Stewart, his writers and his producers were at least as likely to be fuming and aiming their barbs at one of Obama’s talking-head critics as the president himself…

In Obama’s second term, Stewart’s late segment pivot from “can you believe what the Obama administration did?” to “can you believe what the hosts on Fox News said about this?” was predictable and a bit of a comforting dodge for his audience. It was the comedic equivalent of the “but aren’t Republicans in danger of overreaching?” narrative-shift that pops up with irritating frequency during Democratic scandals or embarrassments.

Secondly, for a program that allegedly was one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful and important satirical voice in America today, it sure as heck had no problem punching down. God help you if you’re some no-name Tucson school board member taking a stance the producers of the show find laughable. If you’re an Idaho pastor claiming evangelical Christians are bullied by the culture at large, don’t worry, a Daily Show correspondent will fly out to Boise to showcase you to the world. Washington Redskins fans who wanted to keep their team’s name were asked, without warning, to justify the name to angry Native Americans on camera. Are these the Americans most deserving of on-camera rebuke and humiliation?…

One has to wonder if Stewart found doing the show enjoyable as it wore on. Those featured segments got awfully formulaic: Someone in the Republican realm would get caught in a scandal or saying something stupid; Stewart would stare at the camera in wide-eyed disbelief; tap his pencil in barely-contained incredulity or irritation, and then bellow out, “What the [BLEEP] is wrong with you?!” or some other outburst that inevitably generated audience applause.

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By the middle years of the Obama presidency, Stewart seemed to be tired of the let-me-do-your-thinking-for-you sainthood he’d earned. In 2012, the show won its 10th consecutive Emmy despite submitting an episode so weak it looked like submitters were trying to swing votes to Stephen Colbert. The aforementioned John Oliver era of The Daily Show changed up the format, and when Stewart returned—viral as ever—there was a repetitiveness to the play clip/mug for laughs/destroy target rhythm. On the right, The Daily Show became proof that liberals couldn’t think for themselves, winning an audience of “people who obediently guffaw like hyenas at a glance.” 

This granted Stewart more power than any comparable host. Everyone covered the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov. No one captured the liberal horror at the rollout like Stewart did, when he interviewed then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “If you’re a Democrat and you’ve lost Jon Stewart, you have a problem,” intoned Chuck Todd and the other authors of NBC News’s First Read memo. But that was just it: The assumption was that Stewart would only nail Democrats when they were halfway down the tubes already. The rest of the time, he’d be mocking conservatives, and the worst of the mainstream media; liberals would get dopamine hits from watching the results on TPM or HuffPost…

For a very long time, Stewart represented a permanent and oddly comfortable Counter-Establishment—a beachhead where liberals could be confident that they were right and conservatives were stupid. The worst of cable news was blended in a montage that Stewart could make fun of. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell could be mocked with jokes about turtles; South Carolina Lindsey Graham could be mocked in a Southern belle accent. This defined political news for a generation of liberal Americans, but even Stewart seemed to be finding it stale.

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Liberalism hasn’t won, of course—it just ran out of easy targets. The Koch brothers now loom large as liberal adversaries, but they rarely give interviews and certainly don’t make clip-worthy gaffes. The GOP primary field for 2016 runs a dull gamut from Jeb Bush and Scott Walker to Rand Paul and Marco Rubio—hardly an inherently comedic set of candidates. Maybe this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Establishment Republicans set out to purge the more extreme Tea Party members during the 2014 primaries, leaving fewer candidates like Todd Akin or Christine O’Donnell with easily mockable gaffes on “legitimate rape” or witchcraft. Their efforts largely succeeded, to both their electoral success and Stewart’s loss.

News cycles also became considerably darker in recent months, and the toll became apparent. In his tribute after the Charlie Hebdo attacks last month, Stewart called the cartoonists’ deaths “a stark reminder that, for the most part, the legislators and journalists and institutions that we jab and ridicule are not, in any way, the enemy.” In his first episode after Ferguson last August, Stewart doubled his opening segment’s length to excoriate Fox’s coverage of the unrest. As he piled one absurd clip after another with a prizefighters’ staccato, his light tone gradually slipped away as he spoke about discrimination experienced by his own colleagues. “Race is there, and it’s a constant,” he said in the end of the segment, all levity gone. “You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.” Everybody clapped. Nobody laughed. Stewart looked drained.

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Stewart, with his brand of left-leaning cynicism (sprinkled with occasional earnestness), is a bad example for the liberals who watch and love him.

The emblematic Stewart posture isn’t a joke or a witticism, it’s a sneer—or if we’re feeling kind, a gentle barb—coupled with a protest: I’m just a comedian

More often however, Stewart’s stance is frustrating. His protests to the contrary, Stewart is a pundit, and like many pundits, he’s wed to a kind of anti-politics, where genuine difference doesn’t exist (or isn’t as relevant as we think) and political problem-solving is mostly a matter of will, knowledge, and technocratic know-how…

Not only does this discourage people who want to make a difference—like the earnest young viewers of Stewart’s audience—but it blurs the picture and makes it hard to see when those arguments really matter. It’s how we get the spectacle of Stewart’s rally, when tens of thousands of liberals gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear an ode to civility—with an extended metaphor about the Lincoln Tunnel—as if Washington gridlock were a case of bad manners and not deep-seated ideological differences about government and its place in the world.

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The Daily Show is funniest when its segments expose institutional failures or make fun of the foibles of politicians and the government, not when it lampoons conservatives, who are easy targets. But since both Stewart and his writers are liberals who favor an activist government that redistributes wealth and one that uses regulation to curtail the rapacious interests of corporations, the show hits its targets by convincing viewers to have less faith in government. I think Stewart would object here and say that the cynicism is directed at politicians and the way they use government, but since politicians are the ones who run the government, the effect is the same. Call it the tragedy of great satire. This is why Stewart is not and could never be an activist…

Thanks to The Daily Show, CNN’s Crossfire died, and then the network simply integrated the he-said/she-said political formula elsewhere. The format lives. Jim Cramer, maligned by Stewart for his boorish financial boosterism, still has a show.

The Colbert Report was consistently sharper, occasionally the mallet to Stewart’s sledgehammer. Where Stewart and his writers squeezed all the possibly laughs by making fun of the dumb things that cable news anchors and politicians say, Stephen Colbert’s character, “Stephen Colbert,” was a sustained assault on the right’s institutionalized anti-elitism and resentment-trigger politics.

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Back in 1999, when Stewart took over the Comedy Central program, cable news was still a rising phenomenon. Fox News was just three years old. Satire had not yet begun to probe its many absurdities, and doing so was important. But the danger in focusing on cable news foibles as much as any other subject for 16 years is the way in which it elevates the target. Daily Show viewers could be forgiven for thinking that the cable news networks are the most significant source of dysfunction in American democracy. Some perspective: There are 321 million Americans.

“Combined, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC averaged 1.8 million viewers during the day and 2.85 million in primetime ,” Huffington Post reports, adding that among adults 25-54, they’re down 8 percent in daytime and 5 percent in primetime compared to last year. Granted, lots of influential people in Washington, D.C. and New York City watch cable news because, though aware of its embarrassments,  they feel compelled to pay attention to what other elites pay attention to. Still, its prominence on The Daily Show has much more to do with the easy access to hours of video than the relative importance of cable news in the hierarchy of satire targets. We’re long past a time when its flaws were not evident.

The Daily Show should declare victory and move on. But to what?

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The Daily Show seems like it is something like The Tonight Show, something that can be passed down from host to host and remain somewhat intact. In fact, Stewart said in his goodbye, that it’s time for someone else to have the opportunity. He is wrong. No one watches “The Tonight Show.” They watch Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or, for that brief shining moment, Conan O’Brien; even though the format was similar, it was the host people favored. Recently Jimmy Fallon came along and converted The Tonight Show for the internet age. He’s shortened the monologue considerably, gotten rid of all of Leno’s old formats like Headlines and Jay Walking, and replaced them with sketches of his own and games with celebrities. It is an entirely new show. So why is it still called The Tonight Show?

I feel like the same thing needs to happen to The Daily Show. When John Oliver took over so Stewart could go shoot his first feature film, he pretty much was just a mouthpiece for Stewart, working with the same writers and serving as a place holder until the boss could come back from sabbatical. His show on HBO is so much different from what The Daily Show does, and it’s so much better for it. It’s allowed Oliver to do actual journalism, find his own voice, and see what he has to contribute to the conversation.

That’s what was always so great about The Daily Show. It was entirely Stewart’s vision, and we won’t have that vision without Stewart. Now that he’s gone, let’s give the show a rest and let someone new figure out how to take down our establishment one comedic peg at a time.

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