Sunday, May 15, 2005

John Stewart of "The Daily Show:" A "Fearless Truth-Teller?" Maybe Not . . .

John Kerry makes his first response to the SwiftVets on - you guessed it! - "The Daily Show"

During the fall of the 2004 election campaign I was having a friendly lunch with some Democrat colleagues in my law firm. (Most of my colleagues are Democrats who find my conservative views quaint. For most of them I am probably the only reason they cannot say they don't know anyone who voted for Bush.) My meal companions began gushing about what a great TV show "The Daily Show" is, and I shrugged and stated that I never watch the Comedy Central fake newscast. This admission was met with incredulity.

"You never watch it? How can you follow this campaign and never watch 'The Daily Show?'"

"I don't like shows like that. I mean, I like satire -- you know that. I just don't like the sneering kind that John Stewart does. Besides, I think the show has a relentless liberal slant. Making fun of Bush all the time just isn't funny to me. Don't you ever get tired of that?"

"No, I don't," one of them giggled.

I decided to wade in. "I read a few days ago that some people use John Stewart as their primary source of news about the campaign," I said, somewhat derisively.

"Well, what's wrong with that? It's all a matter of where you think you'll find the truth." This from a partner in a law firm with fine academic credentials from the finest old Establishment universities in the USA. I was left uncharacteristically speechless.

Mr. Stewart has had a book out, called "America (The Book)," for some time now. In the May 4 edition of Opinion Journal, Harry Stein comments very persuasively on both the book and its perpetually smirking author. Here's a pointed excerpt:

Mr. Stewart's profound cynicism about America as a bastion of freedom and democracy is at the core of "America (The Book)." For all the genuine laughs, notes Megan Basham on National Review Online, the book makes abundantly clear "what a knuckle-dragging Philistine you are if you reflect on America the Beautiful with any sort of warm sentiment. . . . No aspect of our patriotic pride is too sacred to be sacrificed on the altar of irony." What's more, she continues, "If a conservative writing team ever penned a joke about a Democratic black leader like the one made by Mr. Stewart's team about Clarence Thomas (a mocking classroom activity in the book instructs children, 'Using felt and yarn, make a hand puppet of Clarence Thomas. Ta-da! You're Antonin Scalia!'), there would be p.r. hell to pay."

It speaks volumes about contemporary liberalism that in "progressive" circles, such stuff passes for brilliant satire.

I can assure you that except for me, my lunch group from last fall would have laughed uproariously at the Clarence Thomas joke.

Stein also offers some interesting insight into Stewart's success and the fawning reviews The Daily Show gets from the old elite news media:

There's no more striking example of how big a part ideology plays in the mainstream media's taste in comedy than its about-face on Mr. Stewart's fellow comedian Dennis Miller. Making his bones as one of Chevy Chase's successors on "Saturday Night Live," Mr. Miller was long a media darling, praised like Mr. Stewart for inventiveness and daring, especially when he became host of his long-running HBO show, "Dennis Miller Live." As the New York Times' Caryn James wrote in 1996, Mr. Miller is "as scabrous and funny a political satirist as anyone around," given to "irreverent comments on the news."

That's when Mr. Miller was a man of the left. Then, after September 11, in a metamorphosis both startling and brave, given the world in which he made his living, Mr. Miller emerged as an outspoken defender of President Bush's foreign policy. Instantly, he became the skunk at the media party. In 2004, hosting a new show on CNBC, he found himself dismissed by the very same Caryn James as one of "the stand-up comics turned pontificating policy wonks." To her colleague Frank Rich, he was simply "formerly funny."

Jon Stewart is in no danger of such treatment anytime soon. . . .

Stein's piece is long and illuminating. Read the whole thing.


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