Last October, Tucker Carlson made a good point. (It happens.) Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” had turned up on “Crossfire” to upbraid his hosts for “hurting America” and “doing theater, when you should be doing debate.” Carlson, unimpressed, suggested that Stewart, too, was failing the public: “Kerry won’t come on this show. He will come on your show. … Why not ask him a real question instead of just suck up to him?” Stewart went for evasion: “I didn’t realize that … news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity.” When Carlson revisited the point, Stewart took the same tack as before: “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.” Clever line–but still a dodge.
The truth, as Stewart knows, is that “The Daily Show” isn’t just comedy. What gives his show heft–what makes it true satire–is that the program brings actual conviction to the stories it covers. Sure, it’s willing to digress into sheer silliness, but it just as often finds an ingenious way to make a serious point. The mystery, then, is why the sharpness vanishes as soon as a guest arrives on the set. No one asks that Stewart lay into someone like Reese Witherspoon; but why should John Kerry, a politician dodging real news shows, get such gentle treatment? And it’s not just Kerry. With most political guests, Stewart sticks to harmless questions and gentle quips, and he seems unable to pursue an argument. Rarely have such flaws been more pronounced than last night, when Senator Rick Santorum appeared on the set.
You with me so far? TNR is pissed that the host of a comedy news/spoof show on Comedy Central wasn’t hard-hitting enough for their tastes. Then, TNR’s piece gets sillier:
One imagines that with more preparation he could get better at anticipating the sort of fudging his political interviewees might try to pull. Instead, Stewart appears to be winging it. Perhaps the best summation of the interview with Santorum was given by Stewart himself: “I do think that these kinds of conversations are illuminating, for myself, and really only for me.” It was a funny, self-deprecating quip. Unfortunately, it was also true.
Apparently they missed this online chat with Rick Santorum by ‘real’ journalists (unrestrained by the FEC, we might add) yesterday in the Washington Post. Instead of putting through any tough questions, the WaPo moderators posed fewer hard hitting questions than Stewart, and instead took up the role of chief fluffers. Sample questions the moderators felt were appropriate:
What sparked your passion for the pro-life movement?
Mr. Santorum, I read parts of your book and it’s solid writing. I read most of the “capitals” in the book, but I didn’t read ‘Cultural Capital’. Could you sum up what is ‘the cultural capital’, and why it is necessary for a stronger society?
I am reading your book right now and admire what you have done to help strengthen the family, especially inner city minority families. Can you give examples of programs you have supported in Pennsylvania that actually help minority families?
Yeah, TNR. Jon Stewart is the problem.