As Jon Stewart signs off later this week as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show after 16 years, the mainstream media is giving him the sort of reverence it normally reserves for President Obama.
Steve Almond of Salon.com writes, “[T]he consensus that has formed around him is that he’s a national hero, an intrepid truth teller, a kind of secular prophet in an age of folly, and the first Jew perhaps worthy of canonization.” Daily Beast columnist and CNN contributor Dean Obdeidallah thinks Stewart should succeed Obama and run for President. If that were to come to pass it would be like Obama never left office.
Frankly, it is hard to tell where Obama ends and Stewart begins. I cannot say I was surprised when it was revealed last week that President Obama had twice invited Stewart into the Oval Office to seek his advice. Perhaps it was a reward for carrying the Obama Administration’s water on Benghazi and Iran. Then there is his defense of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal. Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik, one of the few discordant voices in the mainstream press, called Stewart “a tool” of the Obama Administration.
But consider also what Katrina van Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation, wrote in her most recent Washington Post column titled “Jon Stewart’s progressive legacy”:
For a generation of Americans, Stewart provided a political education that helped shape their worldview. Indeed, as early as 2004, there was evidence that young people were increasingly getting their information from “The Daily Show” instead of more traditional sources. And for the past decade, public surveys have consistently rated Stewart among the most popular and trusted names in news. Although it’s impossible to prove, Stewart is almost certainly one of the reasons that younger Americans are so progressive.
What we have is a generation of young people (and, for that matter, people who never grew up) who take Jon Stewart’s word at face value. Stewart’s typical shtick is to take a highly edited clip, usually from Fox News, and then drop an F-bomb following by an explosion of applause. It is more smart-ass than smart. It is the sort of humor geared to the mentality of a 12-year old. But with what passes for liberal thought these days that’s par for the course.
The underlying message of Stewart’s “humor” is conservatives are stupid and evil. The approval Stewart receives from his audience and critics isn’t because he’s actually funny, it’s because they agree with him. When on the receiving end of such uncritical praise one is bound to believe in one’s own publicity. Simply put, Stewart thinks he’s a lot smarter than he actually is. Every once in a great while he puts his shortcomings on full display.
For instance, Stewart was completely out of his depth when interviewing former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo when he came on The Daily Show in January 2010 to promote his book Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power From George Washington to George W. Bush. Yoo has been a bête noire of the Left for writing the so-called “Bush Torture Memos.” Yet Stewart simply couldn’t grasp that Yoo was being asked to advise the Bush Administration on interrogative techniques that would not be considered torture. The only person who was engaged in torture during that exchange was Stewart for his tortured logic.
Stewart’s ignorance would come to the fore in November of that year when he and Stephen Colbert organized the “Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear” rally in Washington, D.C. right before the 2010 mid-term elections. The purpose of this rally was to lampoon the likes of Glenn Beck and Tea Party activists. Stewart’s idea of sanity was inviting one Yusuf Islam (once known as Cat Stevens) to perform. This would be the same Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens) who on multiple occasions spoke out in support of the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling upon Muslims to assassinate author Salman Rushdie for blaspheming Muhammad in his novel The Satanic Verses.
Rushdie called Stewart to take him to task for inviting Stevens, but was disappointed with his response as he told Nick Cohen of Standpoint. “I spoke to Jon Stewart about Yusuf Islam’s appearance,” wrote Rushdie, ”He said he was sorry it upset me, but really, it was plain that he was fine with it. Depressing.” Late in 2012, Stewart would express regret at inviting Stevens to the rally during a conversation with Stephen Colbert in Montclair, New Jersey. Stewart claimed he had been unaware of Stevens’ comments in support of the fatwa against Rushdie. He subsequently spoke with Stevens and told Colbert:
We get into a whole conversation, and it becomes very clear to me that he is straddling two worlds in a very difficult way. And that he actually still — and it broke my heart a little bit. I wish I had known that. I wouldn’t have done [the bit], I don’t think. If I had known that, I wouldn’t have done it. Because that to me is a deal breaker. Death for free speech is a deal breaker.
Well, this is precious. Jon Stewart, who has made a career of calling conservatives stupid, didn’t know that Cat Stevens said Salman Rushdie should die? It was only one of the biggest stories of 1989. I remember Dennis Miller doing a bit on the situation when he was at the helm of SNL’s“Weekend Update” complete with an album cover that read Tea for the Killerman. Jon Stewart was apparently the only comedian in America who didn’t know that Cat Stevens wanted Salman Rushdie dead.
Sometimes Stewart is just plain lazy and doesn’t care. At others, he’s just plain patronizing and condescending. He combined these two unsavory qualities when he interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali this past March following the publication of her latest book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. As of this writing, I am reading this very book and when you watch the interview it is very clear that Stewart hadn’t read the book beyond the title dwelling on the word “reformation.” Stewart chided her of singling out Islam for critical treatment and argued that the Koran was no more violent than the Old Testament and even told her, “You need to get to church.” When Stewart asked Hirsi Ali how she would reform Islam she tried to say that the Koran should be open to interpretation, but no sooner did she mentioned the Koran than Stewart laughed in her face and cut her off in mid-sentence.
At interview’s end Stewart dismissively told her, “You’d like people to buy your book.” And I suppose Stewart doesn’t want people to tune into The Daily Show? What a jerk! Ayaan Hirsi Ali endured genital mutilation when she was 5-years old, survived civil war in her native Somalia and fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage. Hirsi Ali thrived in the Netherlands and would be elected a member of parliament. She spoke out about violence against Muslim women and made a film about it called Submission with Theo Van Gogh, a descendant of Vincent Van Gogh. When Van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight in Amsterdam in November 2004, threats were made against Hirsi Ali’s life and she had to be placed under 24-hour protection.
Cowing to Islamist pressure, the Dutch revoked her citizenship and she sought refuge in the United States. Although now a fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, she requires a security detail to this very day. Still, Hirsi Ali presses on with a mission she knows will not be completed in her lifetime. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a brave woman who has fought tyranny all her life and Jon Stewart, who has never known a day without freedom, sneers at her. But can we really be surprised about Stewart’s attitude towards Hirsi Ali when his moral compass cannot tell the difference between Israel and Hamas? Of course, I find this attitude troubling from a fellow Jew. Yet far too many liberal Jews are just that. Their liberalism comes before their Judaism and Stewart’s Israel-Hamas equivalence epitomizes it.
Nevertheless, there is little doubt this reverence towards Stewart will continue unabated for the rest of the week and will continue for many years to come. We will continue to be told that he is a hero, the most trusted man in America, and a champion of progressive values. Well, I refuse to be part of this intellectually, morally (and, for that matter, fiscally) bankrupt Greek chorus.
In the rare instances which anyone has dared to criticize Stewart, his standard response has been, “I’m just a comedian.” It would be a plausible defense if he were actually funny.