Saturday, March 24, 2007

What's going on with Jon Stewart?

Has anybody else noticed that in the couple of days since Jon's masterful interview of John Bolton (in which we saw that a basic cable comedian has a better grasp of the Constitution and democratic theory than the man we sent to represent us in the United Nations), The Daily Show has, well, sucked? I know it's only been a few days, but here's how the week wrapped up:

The day after the Bolton interview, a good chunk of time was given over to a phone interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin (who is almost always a welcome presence), during which the bulk of the conversation consisted of Doris reaffirming that Jon Stewart is smarter than John Bolton. Sure, it's true, but is it really necessary? Couldn't the time have been better used commenting on the news of the day rather than defending something that needed no defense? The liberals who watch the show already figured out that John Bolton really IS a douchebag after all, and that Jon Stewart tore him apart in a dignified and polite manner- quite a mean feat. The conservatives aren't going to have their minds changed. So, like I said- why waste the time doing a public victory dance?

The rest of the episode featured a truly bizarre interview with Chris Hansen of "To Catch a Predator." We get it- molestation is bad- but how about mentioning the sensational and salacious ratings-grabbing manner in which "To Catch a Predator" goes about its work? Or mentioning that children still face far more danger from people they know than they do from Internet weirdos? What about some indication that Jon realizes Chris Hansen comes across as more smarmy than the predators he's "catching?" (Even "The Soup" on E!, a network not noted for its penetrating social commentary, has picked up on this last fact.) Instead of asking one single insightful question about the very real issues of due process and civil liberties raised by the series (which is largely founded on the extra-legal efforts of a vigilante group), Jon lobbed softballs and basically fawned over the guy like a panicked father (which is, I guess, what Stewart is.)

Incidentally, my old friend, Legal Aid attorney Shana Skaletsky, wrote a very good blog essay about "To Catch a Predator" that raises all the questions Jon Stewart didn't. Check it (and a brief bit of added commentary from yours truly) out here:

Finally, the last episode of the week discussed only one piece of actual "new" news- the utterly absurd (and frankly, rude) treatment that Al Gore received at the hands of Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) during a hearing on climate change. Rather than take a moment to skewer Inhofe (the last man on Earth who still pretends he doesn't believe in global warming), Stewart instead focused on the fact that Gore has gained weight and implied the same thing Bill O'Reilly and his ilk do- that Al's just an egotistical blowhard. You know, it's possible to make jokes that actually reveal things to people they don't already know from the news: the Daily Show used to be expert at it, and Keith Olbermann is doing a great job of it on MSNBC.

So, what's the deal? After the Bolton interview, was there pressure from within or without to be more "fair and balanced" in the show's attacks? Is there an exchange rate in place? (For every joke about Tony Snow and Karl Rove there has to be one about Hillary Clinton or Al Gore?) Or is Jon just off his feed?

© 2007, Christopher Stansfield. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed to the public under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License, and may only be distributed according to the terms of said license. To view a copy of this license, please click here.

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