Friday, October 15, 2004

Jon Stewart on Crossfire

I think I just saw what was one of the most simultaneously wonderful, horrifying, jaw-dropping, amazing telecasts I've seen in recent memory. Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show (as y'all already know, I'm sure), appeared on CNN's Crossfire today at 4:30 pm EST, alongside hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. As you should know, I'm a huge fan of The Daily Show, and I think that (as has been said all over the place) Jon Stewart is one of the most influential media figures in the current presidential campaign. That's a lot to say for a fake news man.

Thing is, though, when I say it, I mean it. I think that a lot of the "mainstream" media, like Bill O'Reilly and the dudes on Crossfire, are willing to acknowledge Stewart and The Daily Show as influential, they view it as a pretty sad state of affairs. Bill O'Reilly's comments on the stoned slackers seemed intended to minimize the audience of The Daily Show, though O'Reilly effectively apologized for his remarks later, claiming (and I believe him) that he intended the remarks in jest. Apologies notwithstanding, though, there's an undercurrent that if a "news" show like The Daily Show can be so popular, then its audience must be on something. My own personal opinion is that Stewart and his writers and correspondents on Comedy Central offer a lot of biting insight into the absurdity that's present in the system. People don't just like it because it's funny. They like it because it's relevant.

But I digress. As I said, Stewart appeared on Crossfire today, between Begala and Carlson, and he took aim directly at the U.S. media and their political coverage. Surprisingly enough, he took aim specifically at Crossfire, the show on which he was appearing. He talked about such shows as Crossfire, Hardball, and "I'm Gonna Kick Your Ass" as being dishonest when they claimed to be offering actual debate. His target was the sorry state of American discourse, which lets "partisan hackery" pass as honest debate. Begala and Carlson were both a bit taken aback and were at pains to interrupt Stewart to defend themselves. They defended their own show, of course, and they defended the spin-meisters who appear on television all the time as people who honestly believe what they're saying. Stewart took aim at the type of system that would allow there to be a place called "Spin Alley"--or as he titled it, "Deception Lane"--to be the first place to which the media turns after such events as the Presidential Debates. Again, Begala and Carlson were quick to claim that spin is not deception, but rather perception. Carlson made a couple of cracks about how Stewart is more fun on his own show, and Stewart responded by saying that Carlson is as big a dick on his own show as on any show.

Barbs aside, Jon Stewart has a point, and it's sad that personalities in the "mainstream" media look to him as a sort of pet; as someone to have on their show to be funny. He came down hard on an issue that he obviously feels quite strongly about, and the Crossfire hosts didn't quite know how to handle it. In a system where it's hard to look in any direction without hearing cries of bias, and of partisan politics, is it that surprising that there's some resentment at a talking head show which ends up being "guy spouting the Democratic agenda vs. guy spouting the Republican agenda"? Kerry & Bush have rallies every day, and if I wanted to listen to somebody talk about how many jobs were lost under Bush, I'd listen to Kerry; if I wanted to listen to somebody talk about Kerry's Senate record, I'd listen to Bush. (In his defense, Tucker Carlson is more nuanced than the standard Republican mouthpieces)

Jon Stewart was saying that, in his opinion, such partisan back-and-forth sessions are not in any way helpful to America. Honest debate would be helpful; that being the type of debate in which one side can concede good points made by the other. But what we have are shows like Crossfire, which are shouting sessions that leave no room for rationality and honesty. Again, they're "partisan hackery," as Stewart put it, and we've got enough of that everywhere else.

As for the shots traded by Carlson and Stewart at the end of the show, I feel like Jon Stewart is tired of being minimalized. He's now commonly accepted as one of the most (if not the most) influential personality in the media today, but he can't get a fair shake when he appears in any other corner of that media in which he's so influential. Personally, I'd feel a little pissed off, too, if I had something intelligent to say, and I was only met with, "I thought you were going to be funnier." It may have been out of line for Stewart to call Carlson "a dick" on national television; but let's remember that it was perfectly fine for Dick Cheney to tell Pat Leahy to go f*ck himself.

I think that the state of the media is atrocious at this point, if only because of its sheer volume. We've got three national cable channels (CNN, MSNBC, and FoxNews) that are dedicated to news 24 hours a day. They've got to have something to talk about, but as I see it, there's not enough news (especially now, when it's all dominated by the presidential campaign) to fill 72 hours a day, in addition to all of the news programs on all of the other channels, without getting ridiculous, which they indubitably have.