chapter  12
‘Even better than being informed’: satirical news and media literacy
ByChris Peters
Pages 16

On October 30, 2010 approximately 215,000 people assembled at the National Mall in Washington D.C. Many appeared in fancy dress, and held signs with such playful slogans as: ‘Don’t hate me because I’m rational’, ‘Stark raving reasonable’, and ‘I’m using my inside voice.’1 This motley assortment had coalesced neither around a defined political movement nor to protest a substantive social policy issue. Instead, they came to Washington at the behest of two satirical comedians, Jon

Stewart and Stephen Colbert, at the ‘Rally to Restore Sanity’, which centred on the theme of returning respectful dialogue to both the political and journalistic spheres. Focusing on heated political rhetoric and its amplification by the cable news media – much like he did in a widely viewed 2004 critique of the CNN debate show, Crossfire – Stewart, host of The Daily Show, promoted the rally as ‘looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard’ (Rally, 2010a). While politics may have been his focus, Stewart frequently reproached cable news, what he called ‘the country’s 24-hour, politico-pundit perpetual panic “conflictinator”’ (Rally, 2010b), both during the rally and throughout its promotional lead-in. He unambiguously laid blame on cable news for perpetuating an intolerant, inconsistent, and at times, injurious approach to discussing social issues. In essence, he charged this sphere of journalism with failing its democratic function. If we take this as a starting point – over 200,000 people showing up, being

mobilized, attending a rally that imparts lessons on the state of journalism in the United States – it provokes the question: how are audiences’ expectations and perceptions of journalism currently being shaped? If we listen to the cheers which accompanied each instance of Stewart echoing the oft-heard criticisms of contemporary journalism – sensational, polarizing, trivial, irresponsible, and so forth – it stimulates us to speculate about journalism’s ongoing ability to, in marketing terms, ‘capture’ its audience.