Jon Stewart’s tearful announcement Tuesday night of his departure from “The Daily Show” marks more than just the end of an era after his 17 years behind the desk.
Stewart created a new way for people to get their news. Along with fellow “Daily Show”-er Stephen Colbert, who hosted “The Colbert Report” for 10 years, the 11-11:59 p.m. block on Comedy Central was must-see TV for young people.
It’s hard to overstate Stewart’s influence. A 2010 Rasmussen poll found that nearly one in three millennials thought that shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” were taking the place of traditional newscasts, including 30 percent of under-30s. About two in five said they thought the shows helped people stay abreast of current events, and more than one in five said the shows at least somewhat helped shape their political views.
A 2012 Pew Research Center survey gave more evidence of both shows’ influence. Though they made up just 23 percent of the American population at the time, young Americans from the ages of 18-29 made up 43 percent of the viewership of “The Colbert Report” — and 39 percent of “The Daily Show’s” audience.
The only other news source where young people made up an above-average share of the population was with The New York Times (32 percent). They comprised less than 20 percent of the viewership of Fox News and MSNBC, and a measly 9 percent of the audience of the network nightly newscasts.
During the 2004 presidential election, Pew also found that more than one-fifth of people ages 18-29 got their presidential campaign news primarily from “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live.” 76 percent of young voters view him favorably, according to YouGov.
Over at The Boston Globe, critic Don Aucoin compared Stewart to this millennial generation’s version of Walter Cronkite.
“Stewart’s genius — and for once that overused word is appropriate — lay in the way he turned “The Daily Show’’ into must-see-TV by presiding over an ongoing counter-narrative to the official pronouncements of Washington policy makers and to the media’s coverage of those pronouncements,” Aucoin wrote.
“Stewart regularly rejected suggestions that he wielded enormous influence, claiming he was just a comedian, but those assertions were never persuasive.”
Watch Stewart’s tearful announcement here.
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.