News Literacy Through Comedy
by Ruth Jacobs
There was a time when it pained me to hear that young people got their news from Jon Stewart. Now I am starting to think there are worse things—and that The Daily Show may actually be contributing to news literacy.
Case in point: Sarah Palin coverage.
On Nov. 18 Stewart discussed one of the day's biggest stories—Palin's book tour and media blitz. He started by pointing out that her interviews garnered far more media attention than his own with the sitting vice president the day before. A little media criticism there.
So why does Palin get so much attention? According to "Top 10 reasons America is obsessed with Sarah Palin" on MSNBC's Morning Meeting with Dylan Ratigan, "She's Hot" (#9). Okay, thanks for pointing out this pathetic excuse for journalism, Stewart.
But it gets better.
Following #9, Ratigan's crew flashed a photo of Palin in an American flag bikini and holding a rifle—an image that, as Stewart pointed out, circulated during the campaign and was clearly not real.
"Hey, look at that," Stewart said. "They're using those Photoshopped pictures of Sarah Palin in a bikini that got passed around during the campaign and are, of course, fake. And since MSNBC's a news network, I'm sure they knew that."
Cut to Ratigan, the following morning, issuing an apology.
"I want to apologize to Governor Palin and all of our viewers on Friday. In a very misguided attempt to have some fun in advance of Sarah Palin's upcoming book Going Rogue, our staff mistakenly used some clearly Photoshopped images of Ms. Palin without any acknowledgment, and on behalf of the show I would like to say that this was completely unacceptable. We should have never used those photos in the first place, and you can rest assured we spent the weekend and Friday afternoon taking measures to make sure it will never happen again. I apologize."
Okay, everyone makes mistakes. But the most important part of this Stewart segment is that it shows that nothing can be taken for granted—and that it shouldn’t take "the weekend and Friday afternoon" for a news show to sort this out. You can't even assume that MSNBC employees know enough to verify the authenticity of images before broadcasting them to millions.
Watch carefully, America. Or, if you can't, at least Jon Stewart will.
Ruth Jacobs is associate director of communications at .