Despite being- no, because- he is an unabashed liberal, E.J. Dionne is typically fair-minded. After the "dueling stories" of Jon Stewart and Brian Williams hit recently, the columnist wrote
Be a media critic and ask: why did I put Steart first? Because he embodies so many of the changes I’m talking about. He is a gifted comedian, of course, but more than anything else, he is a media critic. He constantly upbraids journalists for how they’ve covered stories, and perhaps more significantly, what they’ve failed to report.
Dionne notes that "Stewart's ridicule almost single-handedly killed CNN’s 'Crossfire' for a while" and was "a mistake" because "All the clever irony in the world can’t get us past the fact that passionate, if sometimes contrived, disagreement is an essential part of democracy." (It should be seen as an even greater mistake given its eventual metamorphosis, since mercifully cancelled.) However, Dionne adds
Nonetheless, Stewart is more often right than wrong. He excels at poking at pomposity. What’s not to like about that? He explains complicated matters when regular journalism doesn’t. And he has drawn people into politics through the medium of laughter — a blessing when so much of our political discussion is grim and angry.
Never mind that Stewart, a skillful interviewer and prodigious reader, long ago ceased being amusing, except to viewers drawn to frequent contortions of the face and voice. That escaped the attention of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which in its embarrassing idolatry neglected the complexity Dionne recognized. On Wednesday evening, it sent out an e-mail gushing
The Daily Show set the bar for making politics funny, combining hard-hitting news analysis with a large dose of humor. In his nearly two decades on the air, Jon has never been afraid to take hypocritical politicians and their outrageous agendas to task. We’ll miss looking forward to 11 p.m. on weeknights to see how he responds to the day’s news.
The DSCC added "Sign our card to thank Jon and wish him luck in whatever he does next- you can even add a personal note!"
Thanks, Jon, for making that sacrifice- and at only $25 million per year! You always will be our heartthrob.
Slate's Jamelle Bouie defends Stewart's temper tantrum on Crossfire but, more importantly, adds
Cable, however, isn’t the only forum for debate, and most political conversations aren’t as shallow as the ones you see on TV. On op-ed pages and around dinner tables, Americans have substantive conversations about politics. And while the facts aren’t always right, the discussion is often valuable. Stewart gives short shrift to that kind of talk. Instead, in the world of The Daily Show, the only politics is cable politics, where venality rules, serious disputes are obscured, and cynicism is the only response that works.
Then Bouie gets at the main problem with Stewart's approach- which, while the DSCC seems not to notice, characterizes the Republican-excusing mainstream media. Bouie adds
Not only does this discourage people who want to make a difference—like the earnest young viewers of Stewart’s audience—but it blurs the picture and makes it hard to see when those arguments really matter. It’s how we get the spectacle of Stewart’s rally, when tens of thousands of liberals gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear an ode to civility—with an extended metaphor about the Lincoln Tunnel—as if Washington gridlock were a case of bad manners and not deep-seated ideological differences about government and its place in the world.
The DSCC plea highlights the caricature by conservative Republicans of Democrats as captive to the entertainment industry. Instead of sending a card to a near-billionaire who is positioned to make lots and lots more now, perhaps the DSCC ought to encourage supporters send condolences to the parents of this individual: