Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire

So, I've been falling foul recently to the trap Tom fell into, which is to get too addicted to my linklog. As a result there's a whole load of good commentary which is only appearing 10 links at a time and isn't properly archived. I intend to fix that, but it also has the effect of making me blog less, because I'll tend to try and summarise what I want to say into a witty two-liner. So screw that: blogging isn't about well-formed articles, it's about what's popped into your head recently. So I'm gonna try to do more, and less well-thought-out blogs, and that will be *intentional*. The point of the blog is to get the thoughts out of the head.

So Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire: torrents of the show are available. Crossfire, for those on the British side of the pond, is a fiercely bipartisan talk show in which a rabid republican and a rabid democrat square off against each other and talk about a topic. Unlike Fox's versions of these shows, like the O'Reilly Factor, where the democrats are wimpish and regularly trounced by the Republican host, the show is (I get the impression -- I haven't seen it in ages) fairly balanced.

Jon Stewart, on the other hand, is the host of The Daily Show. Once upon a time, the Daily Show was a spoof news show that appeared on a little-known free cable network. Then John Stewart arrived, and instead of parodying stupid people in Arkansas, the show started making jokes about the actual news. They were pretty good at this. So good, in fact, that the Daily Show is rapidly overtaking the major networks as the source of news for viewers under 30, and already Daily Show viewers are better informed about the issues than people who watch even cable news networks.

The irony of this has definitely not been lost on Stewart himself, whose tone as the popularity of his show has skyrocketed has grown increasingly partisan as he's realised his own power, increasingly lecturing as he becomes frustrated with the state of the media, the government, and the population at large, and ever more maudlin as he continues to discover that his own show, which purports to parody the news, still portrays a more honest and undistorted view of the world than the news networks themselves. In particular, he dislikes the way partisan media on both sides seize on irrelevant "talking points" (Bush's dental records, Kerry's war record) and blow them up out of all proportion to the real issues (the economy, the war).

So his appearance on Crossfire, in his eyes one of the chief offenders in the distortion of the news, was always going to be controversial. But still, wow. He totally calls them on the fact that his show is more popular and more honest than their own. He calls them partisan hacks. He begs them, literally begs them, to stop what they're doing. Fairly, they point out that when John Kerry was on the Daily Show, Stewart's questions were far from hard-hitting ("How are you holding up?") but he pretty solidly defends the fact that they shouldn't be trying to compete with a comedy show.

This surprises them more than a little, to be honest. They were both expecting a funnyman, and what they got was a well-meaning man who is taking the moral high ground and calling them both to task for the sins of the media as a whole. And for people used to taking hard knocks from good debaters, they certainly seem a bit taken aback, and in fact they shut him down as fast as they can.

The whole appearance is just depressing. Stewart comes off as hypocritical for pretending to run a comedy show when it's actually the biggest source of news (his kid-glove treatment of Kerry was understandable, but not excusable) and his two hosts come off as every bit the issue-dodging media types. The whole thing is just a sad indictment of the state of American media. No wonder everybody gets their news from blogs these days.