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Jon Stewart Changed How Young People View The News, Politics


When the guy known for skewering the news becomes the news, people pay attention. In case you somehow missed it, Jon Stewart announced yesterday that he is leaving "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central later this year. He has hosted that show for 16 years, along the way, influencing the way a generation of young people, especially liberals, view the news and politics. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It has been a ritual for many Americans who long ago abandoned the 11 p.m. local news.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From Comedy Central's world news headquarters in New York, this is "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.

GONYEA: And while the show attracts a wide range of viewers, no audience has been more loyal than young people, who find in Jon Stewart an anchorman for their sensibilities. 23-year-old college senior Natasha McKenzie has this reaction to Stewart's departure.

NATASHA MCKENZIE: I was somewhat heartbroken. My entire newsfeed was full of statuses and tweets about his departure, and a lot of people were shocked.

GONYEA: McKenzie is the president of the College Democrats of America. She sees Jon Stewart as being on her side, skewering Republicans much more than Democrats and jabbing at the mainstream media. There was this from two nights ago as the controversy involving NBC News anchor Brian Williams grew.


JON STEWART: Finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war.

GONYEA: McKenzie also credits Stewart with deftly handling serious subjects on a comedy show, like when he interviewed Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, the now 17-year-old women's education activist who had been shot been shot the Taliban.


JON STEWART: Thank you for being here.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Thank you so much. It's an honor for me.

STEWART: It is an honor for us. I know me.


STEWART: This is - by the way we talked a little bit before the show...

GONYEA: Here's McKenzie.

MCKENZIE: You know, a lot of us for the first time were hearing her speak and hearing her story and getting to know her on a personal level. So those moments really inspire a lot of young people to get motivated.

GONYEA: In that moment "The Daily Show" was more news than comedy. Mostly, it blurs the line. Amy Mitchell of Pew Research says the program regularly shows up as an important source of news in surveys of the public.

AMY MITCHELL: We found in research we conducted this past fall that 12 percent of web-using adults said that they turned to "The Daily Show" for news about politics and government in the past week.

GONYEA: That's a high score for an entertainment show. If you narrow the sample to men age 18 to 29, that percentage almost doubles. The numbers also show how liberal "The Daily Show" audience is.

MITCHELL: More than 70 percent have political views that align with the liberal side of the spectrum. Only 7 percent have views that align with the conservative.

GONYEA: Which doesn't mean Republicans aren't watching and in many cases laughing. Hogan Gidley is a political strategist in his 30s who's worked on presidential campaigns for Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. He says he's long been a fan of the show, even with its liberal slant.

HOGAN GIDLEY: Well, I mean, look, funny is funny.

GONYEA: And he notes that Stewart does on occasion go after Democrats and the president.

GIDLEY: Hypocrisy knows no party.

GONYEA: Gidley says plenty of Republicans - Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Rand Paul, Newt Gingrich and more - go on the show. He says they can help their cause and themselves by being a good sport. And yes, they're even using "The Daily Show" to share Republican ideas with Stewart's youthful audience. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.