Like most writers, I dream of writing a bestseller. In recent days, there’s been an added dimension to this dream. I’d like the book to be popular enough to merit an appearance on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. When he asks me a question, I want to take the opportunity to tell him exactly what I think of his show and tell him to stop hurting America.
This stunt would be the same one that Stewart pulled in 2004, when he was given the opportunity to appear on CNN’s Crossfire to promote his book and instead decided to rip the show and its hosts for “hurting America” with its sharp partisan banter, which Stewart didn’t even view as real debate.
Stewart fans credit this moment with causing the cancellation of Crossfire the following year. In reality, the show had been tanking in the post-Pat Buchanan era and had a declining viewing audience. Contrary to Stewart’s self-righteous rant, the show couldn’t hurt Rhode Island, let alone the whole country. But never mind, it was Stewart’s moment to shine, even if it was the equivalent of dressing down Steve Urkel during the last season of Family Matters.
Stewart is a talented comedian. He skewers politicians and the media with precision. Along with Stephen Colbert, Stewart has raised mocking politicians to a whole new level. However, The Daily Show is not mere comedy. While the show argues that it’s not a significant news source for Americans, studies tell another story. Pew Research found that two percent of Americans — and six percent of young people — identified Stewart as their favorite journalist. While studies also indicate he’s not his viewers’ only source of news, it’s clear many in Stewart’s audience view him as a source of news. This is where the situation gets sticky.
The Daily Show is an exercise in creative editing in the style of Michael Moore. Putting clips together to make a point or a joke doesn’t give an accurate impression of reality. Unlike The Onion or Saturday Night Live’s obviously satirical “Weekend Update,” Stewart gives the impression that he is making fun of what has actually happened rather than embellishing reality to create humor or outrage.
For examples of creative editing, one need look no further than the interview with CNBC stock analyst Jim Cramer. The network aired part of the interview with Stewart and then placed the full, unedited exchange on its website, thus putting The Daily Show’s editing methods on display.
The video shows that The Daily Show heavily cut out information that would have made Cramer a more sympathetic figure to Stewart’s liberal audience, including:
- Cramer did not agree with Rick Santelli and considers people who have stayed in their homes with high mortgage payments by holding down multiple jobs “fighters” not “losers.” The studio audience cheered Cramer’s statement.
- Cramer voted for President Obama. His only concern with Obama’s programs is that the president is moving on his agenda items too quickly. He thinks America needs to “win the war on unemployment” before passing programs that scare CEOs to death.
- Cramer has suggested other earnings vehicles to people, including CDs, rather than stocks during the recent downturn.
These tidbits, plus Cramer’s attempts to logically explain the whys and hows of financial network reporting, didn’t make it on the show.
Stewart, ever the expert on everything, concluded that long-term investing is a scam and that our “wealth is in our work.” Great news if you’re a New York Times best-selling author and host of an Emmy Award-winning show. Not so good if you’re earning $45,000 a year.
Of course, telling people in the midst of an economic downturn that investing is a scam only confirms many people’s feelings. On stocks, as on most other substantive issues, Stewart simply tells his core audience what they want to hear. His core audience is not the independent-minded college student that tunes in for a few laughs now and then. His core audience are liberals who stay glued to the show even when it’s not particularly funny, because they agree with what’s being said.
If you want to see how Stewart plays this, take a look at the issue of gay rights, which is very big in the entertainment community, particularly in New York. How much does Stewart play to the gay community? A gay entertainment blog made a list of Stewart’s “greatest gay moments.” It was a nine-part post. In part nine, we learned the series would have been longer had Comedy Central’s video site been working perfectly.
Stewart will invite politicians on to hawk books that have little or nothing to do with gay marriage, but he will remake the entire interview into a sudden death debate on the topic, as happened with Bill Bennett and Mike Huckabee in recent years. On gay rights, Stewart acts like a man with a quota to fill.
When he appeared on Crossfire in 2004, he bragged about The Daily Show’s “civilized discourse.” Yet the record shows something else. Per Stewart, Robert Novak is a “heartless vampire demon, a terrible person, and an enemy of democracy.” Ari Fleischer is an ugly serial killer. The name calling, combined with Stewart’s bleeped f-bombs, is the laziest form of shock comedy out there. However, Stewart fans love this stuff, as evidenced by the deluge of vicious hate mail sent to conservative blogger LaShawn Barber after her 2007 appearance.
Stewart’s defenders will say I’m taking this far too seriously. After all, this is a comedy show. However, to say “it’s just a comedy show” is disingenuous when the Cramer interview has been given prominent play in every major media outlet in America. When Editor and Publisher magazine is asking how much of a role Stewart played in the election of the president of the United States, is it reasonable to argue that Stewart is cable’s Jay Leno?
In truth, Stewart uses comedy to shield himself from criticism. It’s perplexing to his on-air conservative targets, who often don’t know how to respond. Stewart uses the comedy defense as if to say, “What? Are you going to hit a clown?”
No conservative analog will ever get Stewart’s exemption from criticism. After watching Ann Coulter’s stand-up routine at CPAC, I think a good case could be made that Jon Stewart is the liberal Coulter, except Stewart has less intellectual substance and a far nastier edge.
The man who declared in late 2004 that Crossfire had a responsibility to its audience should own up to his own “responsibility” to the public discourse — not simply pretend, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that he has no responsibility to maintain civility and decency in his own public forum.
In short, it’s time for Jon Stewart to stop hurting America.