Friday, November 10, 2006

Jon Stewart: Jokemaker

An article at town hall (via insty) declares that Jon Stewart was the kingmaker in this election.

But I think that the article couldn't be more wrong. While I agree that Jon Stewart gives voice to liberal frustrations with government through humor, I don't see him as a bastion of liberalism. And nothing he says changes my mind, but it does make me laugh, even when I disagree.

Rusty compares The Daily Show to Rush Limbaugh in the 90s. Seriously... What are you smoking?

What's wrong with Rush Limbaugh you say? Ah yes, I don't like him, this clearly must be because I am a liberal communism loving hippie who's about to go out and preform 1000 abortions. Or it could be because he is close minded and represents no opinions but his own.

Rusty seems to think that this is what Jon Stewart does as well. But he often has right leaning authors and political figures on his show. And while sometimes Jon will strongly and respectfully disagree with these figures, it rarely gets to the point of, lets say The O'Rielly Factor. He lets these people talk and sometimes one even comes away from the interviews finding common ground with the other side.

One of the things that Daily Show segments frequently poke fun at is the partisanship and combativeness of most news shows. (Not to mention some of the TERRIBLE coverage on 24 hour news networks.) The Colbert Report alone is a huge spoof on The O'Rielly Factor, the idea that one man's opinions are all that matters when it comes to news. And there used to be a segment called Steven versus Steven where Steven Colbert and "The guy from 40 year old Virgin" argued about absolutely nothing. This mocking isn't brainwashing college students against network news, or telling them to go vote democrat. It is pointing out how ridiculous our news coverage has be come, and laughing at the ridiculous things the folks in washington do.

The Daily Show is making Jokes, and Rusty has it right, the audience already knows the punchline to all these jokes. The Daily Show is giving vent to a frustrated younger audience who are tired of combative political commentary and ridiculous headlines that don't mean anything. It allows us to laugh at the painful news coverage of other networks, and the cringeworthy stupidity of some of our politicians.

Jon Stewart didn't make the Democrats more popular. He made Jokes. The Democrats were more popular because they haven't been able to screw anything up for the last 6 years.

Maybe the reason the Democrats won is just what it seems like, people were tired of the Republicans.

Below is a quote from a commentor at townhall called FlimFlamman, I'm re-posting it because I can't link it and I think it is a much better rebuttle of Rusty's article than my post was:

flimflamman writes:
Friday, November, 10, 2006 10:45 AM
Same-old, same-old
Even for its great length, this column is just the same tired, specious argument against The Daily Show. For starters, the main thesis -- that Jon Stewart and cohorts scored the election for the Dems -- doesn't even make sense. Shackleford charges that the nation's youth are zonked out on Stewart's anti-GOP yuks. But that didn't help back in 2004, when the show kicked into far higher gear than it did this past month. (Indeed, the Daily Show mocked the importance of midterm elections as recently as Monday night.) Not to mention: have you not read the polling data? It wasn't only the youth who came out, but everyone. Even 1/3 of Evangelicals turned their back on their conservative brethren and voted Dem. Betcha they're not injecting the Daily Show into their veins every night!

But the problem with this column runs far deeper. The Daily Show has a liberal bias?! What a scoop! Shackleford tries to balloon this into a case that Stewart and Rush Limbaugh are one and the same. But he fails to remotely back this up with evidence -- unless you count claiming that both are stumping for one side of the political spectrum is proof of equivalence. If we're going to define partisanship so narrowly, then who isn't an extreme lunatic who mocks and questions the validity of those suffering from major diseases for ratings and attention?

Shackleford asserts that Stewart's attempt at bi-partisanship has failed miserably, but can't cite a single example, or at least one that holds up to scrutiny. He mentions Bill O'Reilly getting booed when he comes on the show. But that wasnt' Stewart encouraging the boos; in fact, if anything it was O'Reilly who was explicitly encouraging the boos, even scolding the audience. Stewart tries to engage those who disagrees with in a debate. His problem is that he's actually too polite, and winds up cowering when his opponent gets worked up. A year or so ago, he had Rick Santorum on the show. Stewart was nothing but polite to him, and sincerely tried to get to the bottom of his extreme beliefs. When Santorum ducked a question and went off on a rant, Stewart all but hid underneath the desk. Just like Rush Limbaugh! Oh wait...

You also cite Dan Rather being on the show Tuesday night, and how Stewart joked with him rather than grilled him on the events that caused him to prematurely retire. But he fails to mention that this wasn't a typical interview -- it was a special, covering the Midterm Elections. They were joking, sure, but they were joking about...the Midterm Elections. It wasn't a typical interview. He was there as a specialist, someone who's covered elections for most of his life.

There's no doubt that Stewart is a little easier on those with whom he agrees. But not by much. Shackleford claims, "Conservatives are lampoon for being conservative, liberals for not being liberal enough" [sic]. But he fails to cite a single example of Stewart and co. being extreme. They mock the democrats for being wimps (like conservatives!), but never for not being extreme.

And then there's the claim that they have it out for Fox News. What Shackleford fails to note is that they back this hatred up with evidence on a near-daily basis. The way Shackleford words it, it's as though they simply mock Fox News for no good reason. But that hatred is well-founded and buttressed by a neverending supply of clips and analysis.

Lastly, there's this sorry claim: that the youth are getting all their news from The Daily Show. To even understand what the Daily Show does (or for that matter, The Daily Kos), one has to have a working knowledge not just of the news that day, but of news history -- news in general. Young people may not be watching CNN, Fox News or the 6:00 network news. But you don't have to these days. The web has many places one can get news, analysis, and so forth. These days, it's next to impossible to remain ignorant of the news.

The saddest part? Had the Dems won in 2004, this column could've come out, with only minor variations. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Shackleford had written it before Election Day '04 and dusted it off after Election Day '06. That's how relevant and trenchant it is.

P.S. Jon Stewart's name is spelled "Jon." It does alternate between having an "h" and not having an "h," as it does serially throughout this column. Not that fact-checking need be applied to soapbox rants.


girly said...

OK. I really, really like this post on the whole, and want to read it more carefully, but I have some mildly dissenting thoughts to express:

Re Stewart's relationship to people he disagrees with ideologically--I honestly don't think Stewart "cowers," even when he doesn't quite, say, expose the Santorums of the world for the idiots they are (at least to liberals, there are conservatives who complain he should be tougher on the Kerrys and Clintons). I've always thought what he was after, as you say here, was some level of middle-ground civilized discourse, with of course a comedic bent, as TDS is foremost a comedy show. I think there are times when this approach bears fruit, others when it goes limp (or works against him). In the "bearing fruit" category, I always think of his encounter with Bill Bennett, whose arguments against gay marriage Stewart pretty much deflated in six minutes. Yet he did it without being ugly or contentious or seeming contemptuous of Bennett the person--it was the ideas he focused on.

Which brings me to my next point: I do think Stewart had a bigger influence on this election than is being acknowledged here--not because he stood on a soapbox and rallied liberals, as the Town Hall piece would suggest, but because the Daily Show did so much to keep viewers aware of the follies of the president and Republican congress in a way most of the MSM did not (and I think it shares that credit with Olbermann, Maher, Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan, the list goes on). Mind, I'm not saying any of them "decided" the election. But they planted seeds in people's minds that maybe weren't there before, and/or helped give focus to the disgust that was already percolating among the electorate. That's not a small thing.

As for Stewart himself, the fact that he's philosophically a middle-grounder (and he's commented on this in his standup shows) seems to confuse the sh** out of both the more radical right (which hates him for pounding the Repubs) and left (which is frustrated right now because he hasn't acted like the Dems are the greatest in the world for winning the elEction)--which in its way is kind of delightful. I think it's pretty obvious that he's liberal, but I see the fact that he doesn't pound people over the head with it as his strength. His job on the Daily Show is to point out the absurdities of power wherever he sees them, which he does very well.

Keith_Indy said...

Maybe Democrats got voted in, because well, that's what happens in the mid-term elections of a President in his 2nd term.

I know this might cause you a migraine, but you should take a look at the data here...

Shinobi said...

MYTH: The losses Republicans sufferend this election were no different than what you usually see in a president's sixth year in office.
REALITY: Redistricting minimized what might have been a truly historic shellacking.

The numbers alone do look like a typical midterm loss for the presidential party: 28 House seats, with 10 races still undecided. Republicans have clung to this math hard in recent days, with even Karl Rove pointing to electoral history to prove that things could have been worse. But Republicans spent most of the year boasting about how the redistricting of the past decade had made them all but bulletproof. Absent those new district lines, says the American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein, "it could easily have been 45 or more." And there are other results that break with past patterns, Ornstein adds. Democrats did not lose a single seat — a feat the party had not accomplished since 1922. Even in the Republican sweep of 1994, the GOP lost four of its open seats to Democrats. What's more, the wave swept all the way down the ballot — for instance, handing the New Hampshire House to the Democrats for the first time since 1922.

From Time.,8599,1560212,00.html?cnn=yes

DED said...

Good post. Right on the mark about Stewart. Obviously the original crank hasn't seen the episodes were Stewart has poked fun at Kerry and John Edwards. In the case of the latter, Stewart made fun of him for announcing his 2004 candidacy on his show, inferring that Edwards was slumming it. Stewart has always been bipartisan in his jabs, but the Republicans have taken the brunt of it due to their control of Congress and the White House for the last few years. It the situation had been reversed, would the complaints from the right have been so cranky?

When conservative columnist and FOX contributor Fred Barnes was on the show to promote his book, "Rebel In Chief", Stewart was absolutely polite to him. It was obvious that he disagreed with Barnes, but it didn't stop him from being a cordial host.

When Pervez Musharaaf (sp?) visited the US this year, did anyone else besides Stewart interview him? I didn't see anyone else in the TV news media interview him, but I didn't go out of my way to find out. Anyway, I thought that Stewart did an excellent job. Having tea and Twinkies... that was just awesome.