Despite his effort to be a fair and balanced mocker, Stewart’s reputation as the “most trusted man in America” should be taken with a grain of salt. Such stature is not unusual for a comedian, says Nicholas Lemann, the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. “Johnny Carson in his heyday, you could make that statement about.” Lemann warns against generalizing about how far that trust spreads beyond Stewart’s core audience. “I think that’s a kind of a blue-state perspective and youth perspective. To many of my cousins in Louisiana, Rush Limbaugh is the most trusted man in America.”
Left or right, people acknowledge that Stewart is very funny. Part of his appeal may be his Jewishness and the fact that Jews are still perceived as outsiders, says Moshe Waldoks. At the same time, Stewart personifies a trend in which younger American Jews have become more open about being Jewish. “I think like the Jewishness of many people today, Stewart’s Jewishness is not expressed in the synagogue or ritually but in this new place, which is the public square,” adds Waldoks.
In the public square, Stewart may be the perfect Jewish ambassador for our times: smart but not arrogant, extremely funny but not mean—a valedictorian, most popular, best-looking and class clown all wrapped into one.
So, is Jon Stewart, to ask that annoying question, good for the Jews? As Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, puts it, “Are you serious? How could Jon Stewart not be good for the Jews?”
Rachel Sklar contributed to this story. Additional research by Mark Abramson, Ana Forman, Mindy Gold and Maxine Springer.