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Obama was right to go on the Daily Show

Adam Serwer is a staff writer for The American Prospect, where he writes his own blog.

TV Columnist Alessandra Stanley pans Jon Stewart's handling of his interview with President Barack Obama last night, asking whether as a "political satirist" he "loses credibility when hobnobbing with a sitting president":

Mr. Stewart, after all, built his popularity and stature by wittily skewering politicians and journalists of all stripes, without fear, favor or deference. And despite all the adulation and numbingly solemn accolades (New York magazine recently anointed the past 10 years "The Jon Stewart Decade" ) Mr. Stewart has managed to maintain his mock anchorman's seditious mien. Though he can sometimes turn righteous on other people's shows (as he did on "Crossfire" in 2004), on his own Mr. Stewart is playful, self-mocking and merciless.

Well, no, not really. Stewart built his audience by being funny, but his humor reflects very clear liberal values and priorities. He's not afraid of criticizing Democrats or liberals, but he's never pretended to hold himself to the conventions of traditional journalist objectivity, quite the opposite.

Stewart is not a journalist -- alongside Stephen Colbert, he's the nation's most popular media critic. The reason people watch Stewart, other than the fact that he's funny, is because he lays bare the mores of political journalism that actively interfere with journalists telling their audiences the truth in a straightforward manner; he lampoons the way journalists are manipulated out of a commitment to the truth by habit, circumstance and influence. He does this through aggregation, not reportage, and as a result he's not bound the same way a media reporter might be by having to adhere to journalistic conventions and maintain existing relationships with sources -- he can be as harsh and mocking as possible. He informs his audience, he is a talented interviewer, but he's not a journalist, and there are times, such as his interview with John Yoo, where that distinction is made clear.

To the extent he irritates journalists, it's both because the criticisms Stewart makes ring true, but also because some consumers of media can't actually tell the difference between reporting and aggregation. That's all well and good, but holding him to a standard he isn't actually trying to meet so he can be seen as falling short isn't very honest. It's actually sort of passive aggressive -- the ultimate point is to remind the audience that Stewart is not a journalist by pretending he is or is trying to be.

The sad fact is that the reason people make that mistake is the same reason Stewart is popular -- his interview with Obama was more adversarial and critical than just about any exchange you would have seen between someone at Fox News and a member of the Bush administration, even towards the end, when Bush's popularity had hit rock bottom. Even so, the president's appearance was meant for his base -- those disillusioned liberals who flocked to Stewart during the Bush years for confirmation that they were not alone in believing something was very wrong in America.

That base finds itself, after the euphoria of victory in 2008, wondering what went wrong. Stewart, at the expense of discussing issues like the war in Afghanistan, the ongoing existence of Gitmo or the expanding national security state, was focused on this question, with the president making his case for why their present disillusionment is misplaced.

Stanley's critique, though, reveals a bit too much. "It was actually more disconcerting," she writes, "to watch Mr. Stewart apply the standard liberal critique to Mr. Obama than it was to see the president of the United States bandy words with the host of a late night comedy show." I'm not sure how often she watches the show, but "applying liberal criticism" to current affairs is...what the show does.

Still, not taking the substantive concerns of liberals seriously is another one of those rules political journalists aren't supposed to break, which is why so many of them would rather get their news from a comedian.

By Adam Serwer  | October 28, 2010; 10:28 AM ET
Categories:  Political media  
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Next: Voters aren't buying Dem message about GOP obstructionism

Comments

perhaps instead of trying to be fair and balanced, which is really false equiviating, the media might have more trust from the public. but that all went out the window with the WMD's and Iraq invasion fiasco. Stewart and Colbert have been the only ones that don't swallow the whole "poll results are holy" and don't see conventional wisdom instead of truth. I'll never forget what Colbert did at the WH Correspondents dinner a few years back. HE SPOKE TRUTH TO POWER, and the American people.

Posted by: katem1 | October 28, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I really enjoyed the show last night. I thought that Stewart asked the questions that many progressives would have asked Obama and President Obama answered him back trying to defend his record.

President Obama did well as well.

Posted by: maritza1 | October 28, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I'll repeat what I said last night.

"Just saw O on daily show. It's good to see him not relying on traditional journalists that are so smug and arrogant they usually are tripping over themselves to act like complete jerks to make a big headline.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 27, 2010 11:37 PM"

And here's what qb said about what I said.

"The same people who trash Fox treat a comedy show as real journalism. But I can't blame O for making the View and John Stewart his "media" outlets of choice these days. Given the disastrous state of affairs over which he presides, he is smart to stay as far from actual journalists as possible and confine himself to the entertainment shows his base treats as news."

Again, traditional news seems to be getting upset the President has realized they aren't the go to place for information any longer.

Times change. Blogs, tweets, emails and daytime and late night television is where a large percentage of individuals get their info from, particularly the younger groups. The President is smart to use these as its the youth that are going to be driving our economy in the future.

After hearing David Gregory give loaded question after loaded questions to Meeks and Crist and then give Rubio a tongue bath makes it more than apparent modern day "newsmakers" are less interested in pushing for real answers from someone and more interested in advancing their own careers.

And to hear qb complain about Obama not having to rely on traditional journalists to get his message across when almost every Republican, including leadership, avoid the press like the plague, except of course for the Fox Propaganda Network, is laughable.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 28, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Ever worry about running out of things to be outraged about? At the point where someone is worried enough about Alessandra Stanley thinks to write 650 words in rebuttal, one has to imagine that the supply must surely be drying up.

Posted by: CalD | October 28, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Obama went on the "Daily Show" for the exact same reason Richard Nixon showed up on the "Laugh In" show back in the 1960s. He wants to seem hip & cool and connect with that younger crowd.

Politics never seems to change.

I have never watched a "Daily Show" so I don't know much about it but I do know it's strictly liberal comedy. Stewart would have been much rougher with a conservative guest. Obama got cream puff treatment from an adoring joker.

Posted by: battleground51 | October 28, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

It seems evident that the writer does not watch Stewart's show. Stewart is highly deferential to political figures of whatever persuasion with very few exceptions. Far more so than I could manage.

Posted by: bernielatham | October 28, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"He wants to seem hip & cool and connect with that younger crowd."

Except unlike Nixon, Obama doesn't have to TRY To be hip and cool. He is a natural.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | October 28, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Who is going to be tough on The Tea Party Darling, when she launches her very own TV Reality show on November 14th ?

Not this battleground guy. He will be glued to his TV set, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pink Panties that Sheriff Joe Arpaio presented to Quitter.

Posted by: Liam-still | October 28, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I have never watched a "Daily Show" so I don't know much about it but I do know it's strictly liberal comedy. Stewart would have been much rougher with a conservative guest. Obama got cream puff treatment from an adoring joker.

Posted by: battleground51
-----------

Amazing what you seem to think you "know" after admitting you have no knowledge.

"I've never watched it so I don't know much about it...Obama got cream puff treatment."

Posted by: suekzoo1 | October 28, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

battleground51, he treated Obama the same he treats his other guests. Mocking their stances that seem hypocritical and poking fun. He doesn't shout people down like guests on a Hannity show.

So, you should probably just watch more episodes before you jump to conclusions.

Here's the diff.

If a conservative, say Sarah Palin, goes onto Hannity, its a love fest. The guy lavishes her with praise and gives her an open mic and never mocks. It's a bunch of propaganda.

When Obama went onto the Daily Show, Stewart challenged Obama on many of his big decisions and made him explain his positions.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 28, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

OT but Baloon Juice highlighted this NPR article on how the Arizona law was drafted.

Crazy stuff.

"It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.

It's a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

It was there that Pearce's idea took shape."

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130833741

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 28, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

@Adam I think your post is spot on..no way for me to top it.

@mike I echo your thoughts completely. Anything I would have added to Adam's post you have already pointed. I did not watch the Rubio/Meeks/Crist debate even though I live in Florida because IMHO that cake was baked months ago when Charlie announced his decision to run as an I. My wife however did and she came up with EXACTLY the same conclusion as you...she said, "Wow you should have seen Gregory kissing up to Rubio it was disgusting."
Your description is simply more colorful.:-)
"and then give Rubio a tongue bath"

The only thing that keeps me watching MTP is the guests...it still has the most clout inside the beltway. My favorite Sunday news show is actually Fareed Zakaria's GPS.

My favorite news show is still "The Daily Show." Stewart asks questions that other interviewers do not yet he does so in a respectful manner. Fox would have simply been trying "gotcha" NBC/ABC would have asked predictable pablum questions..but Stewart, while joking with and obviously admiring Obama asked some terrific questions..and seemed to get under Obama's skin at times...especially with "timid" HCR.

Posted by: rukidding7 | October 28, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Here's a question for Mr Serwer.

He writes: "...the way journalists are manipulated out of a commitment to the truth by habit, circumstance and influence. "

Would that include you sir? I frankly don't see much committment to truth emanating from your words on this blog. so is it habit? Or Circumstance? or influence?

or a little bit of all three?

which is it sir?

Posted by: skipsailing28 | October 28, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Alessandra Stanley is a vapid autobot of conventional analysis. She had an original thought once, but it died of loneliness. She is therefore a lock for Maureen Dowd's job when it opens up.

Posted by: rob53 | October 28, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

@Skip "I frankly don't see much committment to truth emanating from your words on this blog. so is it habit? "

Ahhh beauty is in the eye of the beholder...as is apparently truth. Again as a former journalist I believe both Greg and Adam strive for the truth.

You could charge "bias" in the sense they are admitted "progressives" and freely admit that influences their "choice" of stories. But unlike Fox they do not lie.

Again Fox doesn't simply have a right leaning or bias...they LIE! They are literally dishonest! The examples are too numerous to list here and if you still need examples then I suspect you are always going to live your life in denial.

Posted by: rukidding7 | October 28, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Jobs are A Lagging Indicator, when the Economy comes out of a Recession, or in this case, yet another Republican generated Economic Depression.

Now we are starting to see the Obama Recovery efforts pay off.

"Unemployment claims drop sharply to 434K"

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Unemployment-claims-drop-apf-3630307780.html?x=0

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the second drop in a row and a hopeful sign the job market could be improving.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for jobless benefits dropped by 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 434,000 in the week that ended Oct. 23.

It was the second-lowest number for claims this year. The only time it was lower was during the July 10 week, and that week was affected by the Independence Day holiday when state unemployment offices were closed.

Stock futures rose after the report was released. Wall Street analysts had expected a tiny increase."

Posted by: Liam-still | October 28, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

All, new polling shows the Dem message about GOP obstructionism is a failure:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/10/voters_arent_buying_dem_messag.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | October 28, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

What a great critique of Stanley's piece. I thought she sounded ignorant and jealous at the same time.

Posted by: LouisianaDoug | October 28, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Notice how many traditional news sources are attacking Colbert and Stewart relentlessly on just about anything.

I sense panic.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 28, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Battleground-
I have never watched a "Daily Show" so
-----------------------------------
Shouldn't your comment ended with "I'm not going to speak out of blind ignorance" instead of then commenting on a show that you have never watched?

It's great that even humor is partisan now.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | October 28, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I don't entirely agree with Stanley but last night's show was dull. The interview should have been punctuated with some of his usual shtick -- some biting media criticism or another segment from the road trip to DC. As far as the interview, he was fairly tough on Obama which was fine but the exchanges lacked energy and punch.

Posted by: wswest | October 28, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

No blind ignorance here.

I read much. I know Jon Stewart is a leftist. I know he is a joker. I know he adores Obama. I know he despises Republicans.

I have gathered these fact without watching one show.

It reeks of liberal commentary and leaks out into the blogosphere. It's like pollution. You can't breath without drawing it in.

And furthermore, why can't Stewart spell his own first name correctly??

Everyone knows it's ...J O H N....

Posted by: battleground51 | October 28, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Battleground-
I have never watched a "Daily Show" so
-----------------------------------
Shouldn't your comment ended with "I'm not going to speak out of blind ignorance" instead of then commenting on a show that you have never watched?

It's great that even humor is partisan now.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | October 28, 2010 12:05 PM
.................


If you are not going to allow Battleground to speak out of "blind ignorance", you are going to render him speechless.

Posted by: Liam-still | October 28, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

And.......I fully defend John Stewart's right to be a leftist, commenter/jokster on TV. It is freedom of speech. I simply do not tune in because I have the freedom to ignore it.

Not so with the dippy, anti-free speech Democrats. They want to limit and censor the highly successful, conservative commentariat that has sprung up within the past 20 years.

They would like to hush Rush.

Fix FOX.

Ban Beck.

Purge Palin.

Hmmmmmm! What would they do with O'Reilly?

Posted by: battleground51 | October 28, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Battleground
Stewart hid his adoration well last night and hides is apparent hatred for Republicans well when he interviews them.

Here's a guess that the sources you read don't regularly comment on the numerous, friendly and mundane interviews that Stewart conducts with Republicans. Maybe I'm wrong and your sources cover even mundane Stewart interviews and if they do let me know because I would be interested in such comprehensive coverage of the Daily Show. But if you want to elevate your own opinion of a show you have never watched over the opinion of someone who regularly watches the show, then knock yourself right out.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | October 28, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

OK! OK!! I give up!

I will admit, out of total ignorance, that Mr John Stewart is......FAIR and BALANCED.

Now go away!

Posted by: battleground51 | October 28, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Purge Palin.

Hmmmmmm! What would they do with O'Reilly?

Posted by: battleground51 | October 28, 2010 1:23 PM
.................

No need for democrats to pursue that. Quitter does that frequently, for a $100K appearance fee, paid to her by Tea Party suckers.

Posted by: Liam-still | October 28, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

"It reeks of liberal commentary and leaks out into the blogosphere. It's like pollution. You can't breath without drawing it in."

Where on earth do you get your bizzarro viewpoints so I can avoid that place like the plague?

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 28, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

OK! OK!! I give up!

I will admit, out of total ignorance, that Mr John Stewart is......FAIR and BALANCED.

Now go away!

Posted by: battleground51
------------------------------------------
Here's an idea...do what I did and decide for yourself rather than relying on the analysis of others whether it is me or whatever blogs you relied on in forming your opinion about Stewart.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | October 28, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

oh come now RUK.

Apparently you've forgotten the half arsed hatched job Mr Serwer tried on Mr Dobbs.

A huge spectacle of a blockbuster revelation that based on the words of a 24 year old illegal alien intimated that maybe Mr Dobbs or someone close to him should have know something about the citizenship status of the guys cleaning the stables.

the operative words I recall clearly: If this is accurate...

come now, that's not anything to be proud of; that's hack writing 101. It is all Mr Serwer provides here. I assume that Mr Sargent invites Mr Serwer to participate because he has hack fatigue himself.

If you think Fox lies, and does so frequently, tell me where are the lawsuits against them? Liberals are rightly infamous for their willingness to use the courts to impose their will on the American people.

So how are the suits against Fox doing?

BTW, I don't watch Fox much either. In fact at the moment I'm not watching any broadcast TV. I went years without even owning a TV but I married a lady who has two. Now she doesn't watch TV either. DVD's and old videos work fine. TV is just not worth the time. I can do so many other things while listening to the good old radio.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | October 28, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

One has to give Stewart credit for not throwing softball questions.

It is telling that Stewart wanted to ask Obama uncomfortable questions. Obama was given extra time to respond - far more than other guests are given.

The audience did not get what they were expecting - which was a combination of satire and fawning.

Stewart did not engage in a hate-fest satire of the Republicans.

Instead, Stewart tried to actually examine Obama's job performance, which is rare. The audience did not see Obama joking around. The audience saw a defensive Obama, trying to defend the wide gap between his campaign and his performance.


If Obama was under the impression that this appearance would lead to a ramping-up of the enthusiasm gap among young voters, that clearly did not happen.

Instead, Obama got a series of questions about himself - and to be honest the answers were not that compelling. Obama's answers certainly did not excite anyone.

The Presidency is not a place for on-the-job training. It is a place for an experience, qualified person, ready to handle whatever comes their way - and ready to take responsibility for leading.

On that measure, Obama failed miserably to convince anyone. On that measure Obama proved his critics right.

On that measure, Obama confirmed he really should not have been elected in the first place.

.

Posted by: SolarEnergy | October 28, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I would have to remind everyone to go back and read Stephen Colbert's brilliant, audacious and straight up balls out speech at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. That is the key to understanding today's media, from compromised prostitutes like Kurtz and Joe Klein to whiny sociopaths like George Will.
http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/stephencolbert/a/colbertbush.htm

Posted by: sparkplug1 | October 28, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

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