August 30, 2004 12:00 PM

Comedy Central (Monday-Thursday, 11 p.m. ET)

Jon Stewart didn’t invent what he calls fake news. They’ve been doing a parody newscast in Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update segment for 29 years. Craig Kilborn did one as the original host of The Daily Show.

But Stewart has established himself as TV’s most skilled lampooner since he replaced Kilborn at the Comedy Central anchor desk in 1999, and he’s in top form this election year. Though I should be appalled at the thought that some of my fellow Americans may use The Daily Show as a primary news source, the fact is they could do worse.

A prime example of Stewart’s acuity came in late July, when the show set up shop in Boston for the Democratic Convention. In the best piece of media criticism I’ve seen in a while, he presented clips of cable news commentators disdaining Al Sharpton’s speech—and ignoring its content—then contrasted their reaction with the wild cheering on the convention floor. Addressing the pundits, Stewart asked, “What the [bleep] were you guys watching?” The Daily Show overdoes the deleted expletives, but I must say it was a damn good question.

Fans of this anchorman enjoy anticipating his jokes almost as much as hearing them. After he showed a clip of George W. Bush as a guest fisherman on the Outdoor Life Network, Stewart’s expression of incredulity mixed with mischief was hilarious in itself. And he gets strong comic support from his team of correspondents—particularly the mock-pompous Stephen Colbert, whose suggested slogan for the upcoming Republican Convention is “a tax-free, less gay America.”

Stewart plays host to politicians and journalists—Bill Clinton stopped by earlier this month—but sometimes his guests are actors plugging their projects. Though he chats with them easily, they seem like intruders to me. So what if Tom Cruise is here? He’s not newsy enough.


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