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Jon Stewart, Mall rat

I've been listening to Jon Stewart rail against the media for a decade now -- in interviews, at the conventions, in my television studio. But the act never gets old.

The journalism racket just keeps producing fresh fodder for him.

stewart

I learned early on that it was not just shtick. When the "Daily Show" dude appeared on my CNN program, we chatted afterward about how exasperated he was with the media. When I was a guest years later on his Comedy Central show, he got so wound up that he kept on jousting with me well past my allotted six minutes -- after quietly assuring me, "Don't worry, we'll cut this part out."

But as the comic descends on the Mall -- along with his wingman Stephen Colbert -- is he abandoning the safety of Post-Ironic Mountain and recasting himself as ... a serious dude?

Keep in mind that Stewart loves to jab at political extremes. And who is enabling the extremes these days more than the increasingly polarized media?

He singles out the 24-hour networks (which will undoubtedly cover the rally). At the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, Stewart told reporters that cable news is a "brutish, slow-witted beast" that creates a "false sense of urgency." Uh, hard to argue with that.

Could the rally, ah, affect the midterms? "Why would there be panic about the first fun or galvanizing event that Barack Obama's liberal base had to look forward to since their limited edition Shepard Fairey prints came in the mail?" asks Slate's Dave Weigel. "It's simple. Democrats look at the electoral map and see that they're doomed. Their hope rests on the resilience of liberal activists and union members, who will be spending the final 72 hours of the campaign pulling voters to the polls. And all of a sudden here come Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, turning a joke into a mega-rally and plucking liberals right out of their get-out-the-vote operations during their most crucial weekend."
But Weigel concludes it will probably help.

What's striking is how many journalists -- Brian Williams, for example -- admire Stewart, even as he uses their profession as a punching bag. That's because they know most of his punches are on target. If Stewart were swinging wildly and missing, media types would object. (Conservative journalists such as Tucker Carlson, who was on the receiving end of the ridicule during Stewart's famous appearance on "Crossfire," obviously beg to differ.)

Stewart says his ultimate goal is to make people laugh. But he doesn't hide behind the just-a-comedian cop-out. His satire is designed to score salient points. That's why his criticism counts.

As for the rally, David Carr quotes writer and producer Michael Hirschhorn as saying: "Stewart and Colbert are awkwardly transitioning from media figures to political figures with an understanding that there may not be that much difference anymore."

In a revealing interview with New York magazine, Stewart says he first decided to whack the media when he took his fledgling program to the 2000 conventions:

"We were at that point merry pranksters -- guys on a bus going, That guy looks like Richard Gephardt!" he says."The more we got to meet people [in the media], it was -- 'Oh! You're [blanking] retarded! You don't care!' The pettiness of it, the strange lack of passion for any kind of moral or editorial authority, always struck me as weird. We felt like, we're serious people doing an unserious thing, and they're unserious people doing a very serious thing." [...]

Yet as appalled as Stewart was by the politicians, his greater scorn was increasingly aimed at the acquiescent and co-opted news media. "I assume there are bad actors in society," Stewart says. "It's inherent in politicians to be disingenuous. [...]

"The thing that shocked me the most when I first met reporters was the people who would step aside and say, 'Boy, I wish I could say what you're saying.' You have a show! You are a network anchor! Whaddya mean you can't say it?" Stewart says. "It's one reason I admire Fox. They're great broadcasters. Everything is pointed, purposeful. You follow story lines, you fall in love with characters: 'Oh, that's the woman who's very afraid of Black Panthers! I can't wait to see what happens next. Oh, look, it's the ex-alcoholic man who believes that Woodrow Wilson continues to wreak havoc on this country! This is exciting!' Even the Fox morning show, the way they're able to present propaganda as though it's merely innocent thoughts occurring to them. ... Whereas MSNBC will trace the word and say, 'If you don't understand that, you're an idiot!' The mistake they make is that somehow facts are more important than feelings."

And here's the bottom line: "We're not provocateurs, we're not activists; we are reacting for our own catharsis," Stewart says. "There is a line into demagoguery, and we try very hard to express ourselves but not move into, 'So follow me! And I will lead you to the land of answers, my people!' You can fall in love with your own idea of common sense. Maybe the nice thing about being a comedian is never having a full belief in yourself to know the answer. So you can say all this stuff, but underneath, you're going, 'But of course, I'm [blanking] idiotic.' It's why we don't lead a lot of marches."

So will the Oct. 30 rally come off as nothing more than comic relief? I doubt it. Stewart knows how to walk that tightrope. Though this time there's no safety net.

More on the Stewart, Colbert rallies

User poll: Will the rallies help (or hurt) Democrats?

Video: Stewart, Colbert announce their rallies

Complete coverage of the Oct. 30 rallies

By Howard Kurtz  | September 21, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories, Top story  | Tags:  Comedy Central, Daily Show, Fox, Jon Stewart, Obama, Stephen Colbert  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Clinton advises Obama on economy
Next: O'Reilly sitting on sound bites

Comments

Comic relief? Who needs comic relief when there are articles like this floating around? ;)

Posted by: bobjohnsony | September 20, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Apropos:

Public event:

How does comedy influence politics?

This event will feature The Gregory Brothers of Auto-Tune the News fame, Baratunde Thurston (the web editor of The Onion), Dan Powell (former Associate Producer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) and Steve Almond (humorist)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010
6-8pm
Theresa Lang Center
The New School, 55 West 13th Street,
2nd Floor.

Posted by: tintinyana | September 21, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

who cares if it helps or hurts the democrats, what kind of stupid question is this?

Apparently this is exactly the kind of thing Stewart is roasting you self important cretinous journalist types.

Republicans and democrats are scum, period. Stewart roasts both of you rats the same, but you can't see it because you have your scum to defend.

Posted by: eezmamata | September 22, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

One must always look for the court jesters to find the truths that no others will admit.

Posted by: job22 | September 22, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

The only "news" I watch are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's shows. Brilliant.

Posted by: danw1 | September 22, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

The "media" (odd that we don't refer to this entity as "journalism," long ago lost its relevance and purpose. Stewart recognizes this and holds it up for examination, and some ridicule, every evening.

The blatant propaganda and overt info-tainment content of mainstream media outlets has rendered them nothing more than impotent players in a political theater of the absurd.

I am 28, and most of my peers watch the Daily Show because it is not complicit in this status qou; it is not a willing participant; it is not a passive enabler of the epic nonsense perpetrated by our politicians.

Yes, the Daily Show relies on satire, but it is founded firmly on the reality that the "legitimate" media either ignores, or worse, doesn't see. Either is a frightening prospect. Much to the political establishments delight.

The irrelevancy of the media will continue to increase. So, thankfully, will the influence of people like Stewart and Colbert. Their viewership is young and loyal. And will continue to grow.

Posted by: oiefrfoi | September 22, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Re Stewart "walk[ing] the tightrope," Howie's right on target re the risks.

Stewart has to make sure he doesn't marginalize himself the way Mort Sahl (who's still alive, BTW) did when he swallowed the JFK assassination conspirary theories, then his comedy career went down the dumper, along with his mass audience evaporated; if nobody hears you, have you made a sound?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 22, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Editor:

Americans crave politicians not unlike the God revealed in the “Old Testament”; Politicians then scramble to lead the rabble in their efforts to emulate the Tetragrammatic JHVH that takes shape during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Vote for me,” politicians shmoose, and I will deliver death to masturbators, homosexuals, non-believers, and all others who differ one iota from our readiness for the second coming.

Then measuring the differences between the promises and the inability of politicians to deliver keep media humming with news flashes, not to be confused with hot flashes. The stage, then, is set for Stewart’s Jack Benny’s open-eyed lengthy pauses; and Colbert’s hyperbolic rants.

President Obama said it clearly in Philadelphia: This is not some academic exercise. Don't compare us to the Almighty; compare us to the alternative political party. The president is clearly a loser because he does not talk with God or even the angels: Too bad, Mr. President.

So, Stewart and Colbert will hold a small gathering at the D.C. Mall on the 30th of October. Bless their flair for satire. They, like Swift and Voltaire, know that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds: Sorry about that, Dr. Paingloss, who like the hired guns of our right-wing pignuts want Americans to believe, even if we trail Canada, Britain,and Europe in medical care and other essential real, not felt, needs of life.

Let Stewart drag the shadowy world of politics out of Plato’s cave and into the life-giving sunlight of our star. He fights the Bull: Ole!

Colbert plays the role of the right-wing pignut who knows it all, but who is unaware of any limits to his stupidity.

They are a rock and sock 'em combination who appeals to all who like the feel of laughter, as they whittle them down to size.

I wish I could be there.

Posted by: grantup2gmailcom | September 22, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Editor:

Americans crave politicians not unlike the God revealed in the “Old Testament”; Politicians then scramble to lead the rabble in their efforts to emulate the Tetragrammatic JHVH that takes shape during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Vote for me,” politicians shmoose, and I will deliver death to masturbators, homosexuals, non-believers, and all others who differ one iota from our readiness for the second coming.

Then measuring the differences between the promises and the inability of politicians to deliver keep media humming with news flashes, not to be confused with hot flashes. The stage, then, is set for Stewart’s Jack Benny’s open-eyed lengthy pauses; and Colbert’s hyperbolic rants.

President Obama said it clearly in Philadelphia: This is not some academic exercise. Don't compare us to the Almighty; compare us to the alternative political party. The president is clearly a loser because he does not talk with God or even the angels: Too bad, Mr. President.

So, Stewart and Colbert will hold a small gathering at the D.C. Mall on the 30th of October. Bless their flair for satire. They, like Swift and Voltaire, know that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds: Sorry about that, Dr. Paingloss, who like the hired guns of our right-wing pignuts want Americans to believe, even if we trail Canada, Britain,and Europe in medical care and other essential real, not felt, needs of life.

Let Stewart drag the shadowy world of politics out of Plato’s cave and into the life-giving sunlight of our star. He fights the Bull: Ole!

Colbert plays the role of the right-wing pignut who knows it all, but who is unaware of any limits to his stupidity.

They are a rock and sock 'em combination who appeals to all who like the feel of laughter, as they whittle them down to size.

I wish I could be there.

Posted by: grantup2gmailcom | September 22, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"Keep Fear Alive" is brilliant. It's obviously the internal mantra of the current Republican party and the Faux News network. It is a major reason why these dolts get votes.

Posted by: raqualung | September 22, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

There is a safety net for Jon Stewart, We the people who are fed up with the American media for their cowardly attitude during the Bush administration and now the coward innuendos and constant jabs at this administration.
As for October 30, yes it will be fun, jokes calore without a doubt but the bottom line will be they will be giving a lecture to many Americans who are so easily manipulated because they are gullible and most defenitely racists who can't moster the fact that Barak Obama is the president and they think they will create enough fear so he won't be re-elected.
The United States seem not to be one any more, some southerners are even talking about starting a separatist movement from the Union, now that is laughable and surely a theme for Stewart to joke about.
By the way you may have some influence on CNN's Wolf Blitzer and John King, the latter becaming a "jester" of his masters. Back to Wolf, the greatest reporter on TV, the one when Bush invaded Iraq he would tell US the hundreds of Saddam Hussein's palaces with thousands and thousands of windows and solid gold fixtures, ask him where are they, what happened to them and to prove what he said and while you are at ask him how many bombs we dropped over Baghdad and how many people survived tem, he never even mention it because he wouldn't dare to make Bush look what he is and afraid he will be called umpatriotic or aiding and abading his enemies

Posted by: postDC | September 22, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

While making an assumption that Stewart and Colbert appeal to the liberal base is probably correct, that does not mean that it only appeals to liberals. I know several conservatives, including myself that will be attending the rally/march on October 30th. In fact, I've gone so far as to enlist others in my community for a carpool to DC, and have many responses for far.

So what appeal do Stewart and Colbert hold for conservatives? That's probably the wrong question. The real issue is, with whom does their satire and humor resonate? Based on the feedback from my carpool posting, I've received emails from college students, those in their 20s and 30s, and those in their late 50s and early 60s. Some are liberal, others conservative, but all appear to enjoy ironic humor, and share an extreme distaste for nonsensical political rancor and thoughtless hurry-skurry journalism.

One of the other commenters here was right, the fact that journalists are asking how this will affect mid-terms and the liberal base is exactly what is wrong with current media equation. Those that will attend this rally/march are likely turned-off by current campaigns anyway.

The key focus of this rally/march is reasonable people, who can disagree without getting into a shouting match, spending an afternoon in our nation's capital for a little levity - that's all.

Posted by: StrategicDiscourse | September 22, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I saw Stewart live at John Paul Jones at UVa in 2007 when my older daughter was in school there.

He was still extremely funny, but a bit less "goofy" than he sometimes is on his show.

Stewart once started off a commencement address at W&M with an observation that our generation had "broken" the planet.
Look for more of the same. Despite all the humor, Jon is really concerned about this country and its future.

And if you ever saw Colbert's piece on Dr. Gary A. Merrill of Bakersfield CA (The doctor with "Christian" values who refused treatment to a toddler because the child's MOTHER had a tattoo! GAG!) you know that Stephen's contempt for the extreme right is just as deep seated as Jon's.

Posted by: trenda | September 22, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

To Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert I sincerely wish both get the attendance that the Tea Party so pathetically lied about at their Neo Nazi Racist Rally. GO GETTEM GUYS!!! Show the world that American has values other than ego, arrogance, terminal greed, and deceit.

Posted by: Bushwhacked1 | September 22, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Stewart>> I remember another --sort of funny guy--became a Senator ?? Now he really shows how an actor is to be--CAREER politician..
as normal the MAIN issue not addressed..PASS THIS ON--GOOGLE >> taxes we pay << decades of politicians picking our/your pockets..

Posted by: rw62827 | September 22, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

The "safety" of comedy? Vaughn Meader. Michael Richards. Rosanne Barr.

Posted by: jpk709 | September 22, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

The "safety" of comedy? Vaughn Meader. Michael Richards. Rosanne Barr.

Posted by: jpk709 | September 22, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

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