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Why Brian Williams’ and Jon Stewart’s exits matter to news

Brian Williams is likeable, handsome and witty, and up until last week was likely to sit in that cushy NBC Nightly News anchor chair collecting his millions for as long as he felt like it. It’s crazy how different things can be in just a week’s time.

Williams was just handed down a six-month unpaid suspension from NBC News following revelations that he lied. Not during a news broadcast, mind you, but in other interviews about stupid stuff like action he saw in Iraq and New Orleans. It’s seems as though his lies were just to feed his own petty ego and make himself look tough, like this NBC ad celebrating Williams’ 10 years in the anchor chair, with the now cringe-inducing title “Battle Scars.”
The NBC internal investigation is ongoing, but based on his own confession it just looks like Williams told silly, exaggerated stories to make himself look cooler and tougher than your average newsman behind a desk. Certainly business as usual for most of Letterman’s guests, but a death sentence for a guy whose whole job, aside from knowing how to read, is being trusted by America.

And let’s not pretend like Williams will ever anchor another newscast ever again. I think his journalism career is effectively dunzo. You don’t get to lie and be a newsman. Williams will go down as just another journalism school cautionary tale with Jayson Blair and that guy Oprah yelled at for making up A Million Little Pieces.

It’s almost poetic that in the very same week that Williams’ nightly newscast came to an unceremonious close, Jon Stewart announced he is leaving the Daily Show later this year. Two news staples gone just like that.

Jon Stewart took over the Daily Show 16 years ago when it was a goofy Comedy Central late-night throwaway, and turned it into a must-see newscast for a whole generation that caught on to the hypocrisy of the shellac-haired farce the mainstream media has become since the days of Walter Cronkite.

As nightly network news has become less important to younger viewers, Stewart and his deep bench of genius talent — from Colbert and Carell to Oliver and Wilmore — and his Daily Show broadcast has emerged as must-see news analysis for more than 2 million viewers every night.

It’s true Stewart denies he’s a journalist and always identifies himself as a comedian first and foremost, but the public would beg to differ. People tune in every night not just for laughs, but to have Stewart interpret the news and put it into context, something that’s in woefully short supply in today’s social media-based reporting environment.

It’s striking these two gigantic figures in American news would bid farewell in the same week. One we’re supposed to take seriously who turns out to be a clown, and another who claims to be a clown who we’ve all come to admire and revere as one of the smartest news minds we’ve got. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for both.

But there is a bright side. This likely means we won’t have to abide any more Allison Williams live productions on NBC.

More on Brian Williams and Jon Stewart’s departures

Brian Williams was never under fire in Iraq: Here’s the real story
Brian Williams should leave the air for good; an apology isn’t enough
Is Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show for NBC Nightly News?

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