With all due respect to the late T. S. Eliot, the cruelest month is February because our best news anchor, Jon Stewart, announced that he would leave "The Daily Show with John Stewart" later this year. No human enterprise lasts forever. If this is a (fair & balanced) appreciation of humor, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
Jon Stewart's America
By Timothy Egan
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Since the golden era of fake news is over, does this mean that what passes for real news and real politics are also over?
If only. Tune into one of the Sunday interview shows, if you can, and you’re bound to find the inevitable Senator Lindsey Graham talking about all the places we need to bomb now. Senator Ted Cruz will do an impression of the Tin Man without a heart or a brain, and Nancy Pelosi will demonstrate that humor impairment is bipartisan.
Throughout the week, the morning shows will be stuffed with viral pet videos, diet and makeup tips and — hey, Taylor Swift said what? They will do follow-ups on listicles and assorted click-bait from blogs, and someone will take Donald Trump seriously.
Sadly, it’s gotten only worse since Jon Stewart built a secular church around the nightly ritual of mockery of the deserving class. So, while more people are in on the joke, more people continue to offer a steady stream of material for the jokes.
“If he’s shooting fish in a barrel, we don’t always have to provide the fish,” said a Fox News personality, Greg Gutfeld, in a moment-of-Zen acknowledgment this week, following Stewart’s announcement that he’s stepping down from “The Daily Show” after more than 16 years as host. “And we provide a lot of fish.”
For Stewart, a gifted clown with wide-ranging curiosity, Fox News was not just a house of hypocrisy and endless source material. It was part of what made a great democracy harder to govern, and less likely to share a common narrative. He understood exactly what they were up to, even if some of their teleprompter readers never did.
“I think that Roger Ailes’s great gift was mainstreaming that nativist, paranoid streak in American politics, and putting it on television in a much prettier, shinier box,” he told Rolling Stone last year.
Critics would say Stewart is a liberal apologist, a sop for President Obama. Certainly, Stewart is a lefty without a cause. Still, he’s skewered the president for his regular failings, from broken promises to veterans to not appearing in a free-speech moment in Paris.
But his politics are beside the point. Conservatives, in general, are not funny, outside of the missing-in-action P. J. O’Rourke. The best comedians do not back the status quo, or get paid to make the Koch brothers laugh.
When Stewart leaves later this year, he will walk away from an audience that will no longer take the theater of media-driven politics seriously. And as a promoter of serious books, he leaves his fans better informed. He’s been a public service — Consumer Reports, by way of the long-dead National Lampoon. And for many in the press, he says what they’ve always wanted to say, using an unprintable word as noun, verb and adjective.
After his takedown of Glenn Beck, writing crazy talk on a chalkboard between bursts of discordant tears, nobody except those with a radio embedded in their molars could listen to Beck.
Can anyone act on a stock-buying tip from Jim Cramer, the CNBC host, after Stewart showed him promoting garbage before the financial collapse on a show that tries to make funny with your money, barking “buy, buy, buy!” while banging a gong?
And “Crossfire,” the original shout-fest on CNN that tried to prove there are no 50 shades of gray in cable’s view of politics, only one dimension of wrong, was left exposed and shamefaced for what it is after Stewart told the hosts to “stop hurting America.”
Faith in the media? That is one commodity on the endangered species list. All the more reason why readers of The New York Times, like me,...
Stewart didn’t degrade politics and the press. He walked through a degraded landscape, the tour guide who’s also a smartass. In the cheerleading phase of the Iraq war, when dissident voices were labeled traitors, Stewart called out the lies on which the invasion was built, long before most Democrats, and most reporters, ever did. It shouldn’t take a comedian, obviously, to do that.
“Where will I get my news every night?” asked Bill Clinton, in a tweet following Stewart’s announcement.
He could start with the existing newscasts, mostly operating as platforms for new pharmaceuticals. He could consider holding anchors riding through the streets of Manhattan in “blizzard-mobiles” to higher standards. Or force them to ask, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” That’s what Stewart did Wednesday night, in a bit on an executive order from Governor Sam Brownback that now allows people to legally discriminate against gay and lesbian state workers.
“It being Kansas, I guess Brownback clicked his heels three times and said, ‘There’s no place like homophobia.’
Stewart owes something to middle-aged “Saturday Night Live.” A brilliant comedian once appeared in a skit as a one-man mobile news unit, complete with a parabolic antenna mounted to his head. That comic is a United States senator now, Al Franken, of Minnesota. A role model for Stewart? Not likely. Franken left his humor at the Capitol entrance. Stewart would never get past the door. Ω
[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]
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