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Jon Stewart, I Watch You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

2010 October 26

I’m not going to the Rally to Restore Sanity. Most of the people I know expected me to be there this upcoming weekend, so I’d like to explain what’s keeping me away from the big event. First, though, some qualifications: I’ve watched The Daily Show since it was a mid-level piece of late night programming run by Craig Kilborn. I own a copy of America: The Book, and had the poster that came with it hanging in my dorm room. I’ve interviewed former TDS head writer David Javerbaum, and have been to the TDS offices, where I briefly met Samantha Bee. I’ve gone to a live taping (Jon is short, but so was then-guest Daniel Craig). When I’ve seen Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac on the train and on the street, I’ve done my best to keep my reaction dignified. I’m the last person who should be steering clear of D.C. this weekend. But here I am, fully amped not to go to the rally, and even more excited that Conan is about to offer some competition at 11pm. How I got to this point isn’t about anything that happened to me, but the result of what’s been going on since Jon announced the event.

While I’m not here to talk about the feud between The Daily Show and Gawker Media blog Jezebel, it is as good a jumping in point as any. Sparked by new TDS correspondent Olivia Munn, Jezebel published a massive piece on the show’s history of being more of a boy’s club that anything known for progressive and responsible behavior should be made out to be.

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Munn arrived above, not garnering much laughter, but instead a smattering of skeptical looks at what seemed to be a token Attractive Female hiring.  After the article, the only real reaction from the show was a letter directed towards Jezebel, on their website where all of the female staff, with a tone of sarcasm to avoid sincerity or taking Jezebel seriously, sang Jon’s good graces.

I bring up the non-handling of the issue because lately, Stewart has made himself more and more hard to get a feel for. His preoccupation with being seen as not taking a side is constantly evident, and in certain interviews has been greatly pronounced.  In their last episode on air before taking a week off to prep for their trip to Washington D.C., the show hosted Eric Cantor and Condoleeza Rice, the kind of politicians that are neither starving for a chance to speak to the public, nor have given an interview of worth in their lives.

In an almost Obaman need to be liked by viewers on the right, Stewart has a bad habit of bringing false equivalencies to denigrate the left. Usually not one to fall prey to political common wisdom, he’s one of the many who say that MSNBC is comparable to FOX, something that you can brush aside by comparing Morning Joe‘s counter-to-Olbermann/Maddow-programming nature to FOX & Friends‘ love of its network’s status quo.

In announcing The Rally To Restore Sanity, there came a false equivalency to end them all, the highlight being a comparison between people protesting with “Bush is a War Criminal” placards and the tea party folks with their “Obama is a Nazi” signs. Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald proved this falsehood wrong, and has been a strong voice in approaching the grey areas of Stewart’s programming. Since then, it seemed as if the program has cared more about promoting the rally and its cultural significance than actually covering the events of the mid term elections.

On the last show before going of the air, they spent the majority of the show talking about the rally. In the first segment, Colbert showed up to waste six minutes with some false nonsense about having to join the rallies together; this is a complete formality moment that could have been shoehorned into the week in DC. The next segment, in which Oprah showed up, was as much of a publicity stunt as anything the show criticizes. If it wasn’t for a great interview with David Rakoff, the episode would have been a wash, and left a bad taste in the mouth before a week off.

The Daily Show–and this is a problem it shares with the majority of the country’s news media–seems to be more preoccupied with politics than policy. Being a half hour comedy program, how could they be expected to be a policy-driven platform? A segment that recently got me pretty angry was their coverage of lame, misleading campaign ads, specifically Alan Grayson’s ads attacking his opponent’s stance on women’s reproduction rights, nicknaming him Taliban Dan, and misappropriating a soundbyte.

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The ad is pretty bad, but at the same time, this topic of the tea party right’s crusade against the right to have an abortion, even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, is a topic that few in the news are willing to confront. That Stewart won’t go in on normalized extremism shows the flaws of a half hour comedy show gaining journalistic responsibility. On occasion, the third act interview segment may break into policy debates, and this is obvious when Jon Stewart breaks out statistics to show he’s done his homework, but until Jon Stewart decided that he wanted to rally the silent majority, he didn’t need to have more up his sleeve than jokes.

People will be going out to the Mall expecting more than just laughs, but nobody knows what, aside from that, to expect. I can’t see it being any grand stage for exploration of the political middle ground, where Stewart endorses specific sanity promoting politicians, or encourages people to vote. That’s just the kind of responsibility that Stewart seems to be allergic to.

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