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Thursday, October 21, 2004

An uncivil call for civility

I know I'm a couple of days behind the curve on this one, but I finally got to see Jon Stewart's diatribe from his appearance on Crossfire. I must admit, after reading all of the "Stewart kicks Tucker Carlson's butt" posts (see here for the article, here, here, and here, to name but a few), I was expecting . . . more. For the few who missed it, Stewart came on the program allegedly to plug his new book. Instead, he spent 15 minutes excoriating the hosts, Lefty Paul Begala and Righty Tucker Carlson, for having a program that "hurts the public discourse." Not expecting a lecture, Carlson (and to a lesser extent Begala) tried to comeback at him, but Stewart used his infamous wit to slap Carlson about. As noted above, it appears that most liberals feel that, for this reason, Stewart scored tremendous points and should be bronzed and mounted next to the Speaker's Chair in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I don't see it quite that way. In fact, I noticed several things that made me wonder more about the Stewart supporters than the Crossfire goons.

Let me begin by saying that I am more likely to watch The Daily Show than I am to watch Crossfire. Years ago, I lived with a political consultant who watched Crossfire (and several other political talking head programs) every day, and I found the discussions pedantic and boring. Stewart, on the other hand, can be funny in small doses. That said, here's my list of Stewart hypocrisies -- feel free to play at home:

1. Stewart used the format of the show to blast the format of the show. If snide, partisan comments don't quality as discourse why do snide, self-righteous comments qualify?

2. Stewart ripped the show for stating opinions without factual support by giving opinions without factual support. All Stewart had to offer were witty insults and his opinion -- exactly what you would expect to see on any regular episode of Crossfire. When things got hot, what did Steward do? He made fun of Carlson for wearing a bow tie.

3. Stewart ridiculed Carlson for trying to hold The Daily Show to the same standard as Crossfire by noting that his show "follows puppets making crank calls," yet his whole purpose is to play the statesman and lecture CNN. Stewart clearly wants it both ways -- he wants us to believe that his show is a joke, but then he expect us to take him seriously.

4. Stewart blast Crossfire for damaging the public discourse, yet he has been accused by others of doing the same thing by presenting the news as comedy. Evidently, Stewart believes that the little Comedy Central logo at the bottom of The Daily Show's screen is a disclaimer that the he and his staff can say what they want with impunity. Despite his protests, his show is every bit part of the political discourse as Crossfire, yet he (supposedly) fails to see that.

5. Stewart accuses Begala and Carlson of being "hacks," yet he has squarely tossed himself into John Kerry's corner during this election.

6. Stewart claims that Crossfire is "theater" and not "debate," yet his appearance is nothing but theater (otherwise he could have just emailed the hosts with his feelings). It was a "holier-than-thou" ambush with a lot of heat but no light. The whole thing was nothing more than a practice P.R. tool for Stewart's career.

As theater, Stewart definitely deserved his reviews for this show -- Carlson came off as a flatfooted and defenseless, while Begala hardly even bothered to engage -- but don't for a minute think that he has actually made a point. Say what you will about Crossfire, it is what it claims to be -- a show where politically connected people come on to verbally duke it out. Unlike Stewart, Carlson and Begala don't need to ambush their prey. The debates are raucous and often insulting, but despite Stewart's opinion, they are debates, and they do have a place in the public discourse. If you don't like it, do what I do -- switch the channel.
Centinel 12:11 PM #


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