By taking up a cause—the 9/11 health bill—and getting quick results, Jon Stewart is following in the footsteps of news greats and "advocacy journalists" Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, professor of television Robert Thompson tells the New York Times. Murrow helped shift public opinion on the Sen. Joseph McCarthy hearings; Cronkite’s views on the stalemate in Vietnam influenced Lyndon Johnson's decision not to run for reelection. Though Thompson acknowledges the fact that Stewart's impact doesn't yet measure up to Murrow and Cronkite's, he argues that the comparison is a valid one, because barring Stewart’s help, the bill would likely have floundered.
“He so pithily articulated the argument that once it was made, it was really hard to do anything else,” says Thompson. And the fact that Stewart's television outlet is comedy, not journalism, could represent a shift. “I have to think about how many kids are watching Jon Stewart right now and dreaming of growing up and doing what Jon Stewart does,” says Thompson. "Just like kids two generations ago watched Murrow or Cronkite and dreamed of doing that. Some of these ambitious appetites and callings that have brought people into journalism in the past may now manifest themselves in these other arenas, like comedy." (Read more Edward R. Murrow stories.)