“Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man In America?” read a 2008 New York Times headline. Pure inquisitive headlining for the time has turned into an eerie foreshadowing of the past few weeks’ news events. The mere announcement of Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show” sent audiences into a mass panic, parent company Viacom’s stock down $350 million and the internet buzzing.
Stewart, at the time, had not only become the most trusted, but perhaps one of the only trusted newsmen in America, despite being a self-proclaimed entertainer. The distinction had previously been given to all-time great Walter Cronkite. But it seems as though the Cronkites of the world have faded: Cronkite’s own replacement, Dan Rather, was embroiled in scandal within a few years, and now Brian Williams has fallen from grace. This most recent controversy has left satirists as a beacon of light. Stewart, as well as his protégés Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, have lured audiences not only with on-the-nose one-liners, but dependable, accurate news reporting.
With all of this newly directed trust, let us change the face of trust one more time. If satirists are going to replace news reporters as American society’s “most trusted,” that role should also be articulated by the people that America has long marginalized and doubted. Rather than heteronormative, straight white males like Cronkite, Williams, Stewart, Colbert and Oliver, I want the voice of someone of color, someone female-identifying, someone gay or trans, someone who society consistently chooses to ignore to be my beacon.
There is a mistrust of marginalized people deeply embedded in our culture. Trust is lacking when a white police officer assumes that the only way to communicate with someone of color is to control them, to harass or assault or shoot them into submission. It is lacking when one woman’s testimony (or that of 30) that she was assaulted or abused is worth less than a man’s. It is lacking when a 17-year-old trans girl named Leelah is not trusted by her parents to know herself, to know her own identity or to be let out of her house expressing that identity.
They all need our faith.
They need to be the people that society looks to for authentic and accurate interpretations of the world.
There has been some promising progress recently. Larry Wilmore of The Nightly Show has been spectacular early on, as Colbert’s replacement. Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams quickly became fans’ most sought-after replacement for The Daily Show (the latter instance was even a little hasty, with Williams herself refusing the job).
Whoever takes the helm as satire’s figurehead should finally rid America of the notion that reliability looks like a white man in a three-piece suit. I want to rely on the Wilmores, the Amy Poehlers, the Tig Notaros and the Sasheer Zamatas of the world or the Margaret Chos, Aziz Anzaris, the Hari Kondabalus and Maya Rudolphs. Comedians of marginalized identities have a way of sharply seeing what is around them, of deconstructing this world in an accessible and relatable way. They give us clarity and assure us that we are not alone in the world. Going forward, let us not leave them behind in return.
Carmen Triola is a first-year and is undeclared. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CarmenTriola.