Jon Stewart burns up on "Crossfire"


Oct. 25, 2004, midnight | By Grace Harter | 15 years, 9 months ago


Two Fridays ago, "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart took a unique approach to appearing as a guest on the debate show "Crossfire". Instead of merely debating a few issues and exchanging banter as guests have in the past, Stewart took it upon himself to personally attack both hosts, label the show as a miserable failure and inform the viewers that the media was "hurting America." Fortunately, the argument did not come to blows, but it did reach the verbal equivalent.

Stewart's arguments on the show were hypocritical and weak. He failed to offer any solutions. Instead, the only words that came out of his mouth were long-winded complaints about the media and snide remarks to host Tucker Carlson whenever he tried to bring Stewart back on track.

Off-putting behavior aside, Stewart did make some good points. His main problem with "Crossfire" and other shows like it is that it rarely helps or informs the public about politically important matters. "You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably," he proclaimed on the show to much applause. "The thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations." In his arguments, he pointed out how theatrical many of the debate shows on television are today, justifiably saying, "You are part of their strategies." Indeed, it does sometimes seem that shows like "Crossfire" are more about the yelling, the witty replies and the sharp insults than the political content.

Though Stewart must be commended for having the guts to lambaste a show directly to its hosts, he failed to provide a remedy for the problem about which he claimed to know so much. Instead of advising Carlson and co-host Paul Begala on what they could do, he resorted to petty insults. Stewart stooped so low as to call both Carlson, who is a conservative, and Begala, a liberal, "partisan hacks."

The most infuriating aspect of Stewart's appearance on "Crossfire" was the hypocrisy of all of his arguments. Stewart's "The Daily Show" has held the attention of many people for most of this year for its hilarious, over-the-top correspondents and its vicious satire of modern news. However funny it may be, it also employs real issues and real news, educating its viewers on the politics of today. A University of Pennsylvania National Election Annenberg study showed that young people who watch "The Daily Show" were better informed about politics than those who don't. The study also showed that males ages 18 to 34 years old got their political information from "The Daily Show" more than from any other news channel. Though the show is full of jokes and satire, "The Daily Show" is an important program in educating younger viewers about the political issues of today.

Despite all of that, Stewart continued to insist he didn't have the same responsibilities as people like Carlson and Begala because his show was for comedy. Carlson made an excellent point in the show that though Stewart had many high-power guests on his show, he asked them ridiculously weak questions and failed to live up to his responsibility as the host of a show that millions of young people watch. In a time period of two months, "The Daily Show" had such guests as presidential candidate John Kerry, former President Bill Clinton, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett. How Stewart could claim to hold no clout and label his show as just comedy is a complete mystery. If "The Daily Show" were simply an extended version of "Saturday Night Live"'s Weekend Update, none of these important political players would agree to appear. And yet they all did, because they knew how important and influential "The Daily Show" really is.

But worst of all, Stewart complained that "Crossfire" is too easy on politicians and doesn't ask challenging questions. However, he himself asked insipid questions in his interview with Kerry. "How are you holding up?" and "Have you ever flip-flopped?" are just examples of the banal queries he made during that show. The fact that Stewart had a man who could possibly be the next President of the United States on his show and resorted to asking such stupid questions shows he has no regard for his audience or his influence on politics. His interview with Kerry was more like a five-minute commercial for the candidate than a hard-hitting news dialogue. Stewart has amazing resources and guests for his show, but he shirks his responsibility to the public by not taking charge of his command over America's media.

Bill O'Reilly probably best expressed the general uneasiness about Stewart's careless attitude when Stewart appeared on his show early in September. "You know what's really frightening?" Bill O'Reilly asked rhetorically. "You actually have an influence on this presidential election." It is scary that Stewart fails to recognize his power over America and refuses to accept responsibility for it. And it's even worse that Stewart feels the need to blow the whistle on these shows that are "hurting America" and not taking responsibility when he shows so little regard for his own audience.



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Grace Harter. Grace Harter is currently a CAP senior at Blair. She loves anything British, books, music, movies and of course Silver Chips Online. She'd like to close with a quote from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" that is especially profound (and makes reference to her ultimate favorite … More »

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