I’m sure this will not be my only reflection on the work that Jon Stewart is doing over at Comedy Central, and let me just start out by saying: I am impressed with the transformation of The Daily Show from an exclusively comedic source of news to the program that it is today. The guests in the recent past have been excellent, and Jon Stewart’s interviewing of them has also been great.
Many remember his grilling interview of Jim Cramer where he did his best to hold Cramer and his peers accountable for not speaking up against the short selling, financial derivatives, and other practices that led to our current recession when they knew that it was happening. His last show of the year on Dec. 16 2010, concerning the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, was a great success. At the time, his roundtable with four first responders was the only such interview of their opinions featured on any cable news program (he didn’t take it easy on the rest of the media for this). The men and women affected by the passing of the bill are all thankful to the attention drawn to the issue by Jon Stewart who called the filibuster of healthcare for responders “an outrageous abdication” of responsibility by Republicans. I stumbled across an article comparing him to Edward R. Murrow, who was far before my time. After some light research, it was easy to see why such a comparison would be made. There are many out there who see Jon Stewart and The Daily Show as one of the few sources of honesty and integrity in news today. Stewart has certainly been an advocate for a number of causes, both domestic and foreign. He has also had recent interviews with Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton, along with many other respected politicians, journalists, and actors/actresses. The line between comedian with opinions and activist with jokes is getting blurrier by the day. He still sits across from Ricky Gervais and makes boner jokes, but when he “gets” an interview with a big name, he asks them some difficult questions.
Part 1 of the Interview:
Part 2 of the Interview:
Part 3 of the Interview:
With his interview with Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday, it’s easy to see he has been stepping up his game, posing real questions to his guest. Jon Stewart makes no apologies for being a liberal (outside of apologizing for the bumbling former Democratic Congress), but he doesn’t let his beliefs show through in his interviews. He instead focuses on the issues at hand (or in the case of Rumsfeld, issues in the past). This interview was a great one, and he asked some of the questions that many Americans have been wondering since 2003. Starting off, I have to say that I couldn’t help but like Rumsfeld throughout the interview. He seemed very open about the past, even discussing some of the mistakes that were made in the process. He had an excellent quote in his book about how certainty without power is interesting, even amusing (see Glenn Beck today), but certainty with power is dangerous (see apocalyptic future with an all-powerful Glenn Beck robot overlord). This is certainly true, but I would separate a bit from Stewart’s opinion that there was an arrogant certainty about the White House concerning Iraq. There were probably doubters within the White House, but in the spirit of keeping a united front, such doubts were dealt with behind the scenes. Rumsfeld might have been one of the most cautious, shown by his foresight of possible failures (his “Parade of Horribles”), but I think hope he was shown enough evidence at the time to mollify his doubts. Other people within the administration might have disagreed further with the intelligence, plans, or strategy, and were left in a no-win situation. They could privately express concerns, but they were limited by the fact that public disagreement could result in an image of a divided and doubtful White House that wouldn’t play well at home or around the world. As the Secretary of Defense at the time, Rumsfeld couldn’t post his “Parade of Horribles” to his MySpace page (prior to his move to facebook). That would cast doubts on the President.
Throughout the interview, Stewart repeatedly questioned the amount of energy used to convince the American public that war in Iraq was a good idea. It is crazy to think what the government could accomplish if they put as much energy into something productive. If as much energy was put towards focusing the American public on real issues (school system, corruption in big business, healthcare, etc.) something might really get accomplished. We can all cross our fingers and hope.
No one can disagree that Iraq without Saddam is better than Iraq with the suicide-bomber-supporting dictator. A leader who supports the most radical of extremists, and knowingly allows terrorist groups to operate within the country, is someone who needs to be removed from power. The terrorists may have considered him an apostate, but the chemical weapons facility found in Sargat was run—without interference—by Ansar al-Islam. Looking at the current situation in the Middle-East, and the peaceful (relatively speaking) expansion of democracy, it’s apparent there were other ways than war to remove a dangerous and ruthless dictator from power.
Finishing up, I wish all journalists/pundits would interview in the same way as Jon Stewart. His ability to communicate and keep his subject engaged is unparalleled, with the exception of possibly Anderson Cooper (you silver fox, you). I’m sure that the interview was filled with cases where Stewart would have loved to “Roll 212!” and call him out on a contradiction, but seemed more interested in discussing the situation with someone from inside the White House at the time. The Iraq War has forever been one of the things that can heat Jon Stewart up, with more than 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and nearly 4,500 US casualties. He could have taken a much more aggressive position in the interview. For many of the current journalists in the 24 hour news cycle, disagreements with guests results in a Sean Hannity or Ed Schultz-style berating, with very few unloaded questions. When Donald Rumsfeld was interviewed we didn’t see an angry, unreasonable host; instead, we saw a host who seemed content to be able to ask the questions.
“Episode #14036.” Host Jon Stewart. Guest Jim Cramer. The Daily Show. Comedy Central. 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2011. <http://www.thedailyshow.com/>.
“Episode #15161.” Host Jon Stewart. Guests Kenny Speck [FDNY], Chris Bowman [NYPD], Ken George [DOT], John Devlin. The Daily Show. Comedy Central. 24 Dec. 2010. Web. 23 Feb. 2011.. <http://www.thedailyshow.com/>.
“Episode #16027.” Host Jon Stewart. Guest Donald Rumsfeld. The Daily Show. Comedy Central. 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2011. <http://www.thedailyshow.com/>.