10 Times Jon Stewart Outdid Journalism - Rolling Stone
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10 Times Jon Stewart Outdid Journalism

From Charleston to class warfare and ripping CNN a new one, this was the ‘Daily Show’ host at his best

jon stewart

Four nights a week, we tuned in to The Daily Show to process the previous day's events, watch Jon Stewart banter with authors and actors, and — if we were really lucky — see him rip into Fox News like a rabid terrier. (We'll miss you most of all, clip-montages-of-contradictions-while-Stewart-offered-scolding-commentary.) But there were a handful of times over his 16 years behind the desk when the host did more than just crack us up or remind us that "Santorum" has slowly transformed into a slang term for something unspeakable. (Google it, but don't say we didn't warn you.)

These were the moments when he'd press a guest to explain why something had fallen short of expectations, or called folks out when he felt that citizens were being purposefully misled by misinformation, or dug into a story with a depth and sense of outraged humanity that the usual news sources hadn't been able to tap. Stewart constantly told people that he was not a journalist, he was a comedian — yet there were times when he not only displayed impressive reporting/interviewing chops or got to the heart of a tragedy like 9/11 or Charleston that you felt he'd beaten the Fourth Estate at its own game. Here are 10 examples of when Stewart outdid journalism — those incredible instances when he turned The Daily Show into something much more than a late-night comedy staple.

jon stewart

Grilling Nancy Pelosi

It's a mistake to say that The Daily Show only went after the right. Exhibit A: Democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's grilling on January 30, 2014, when the host pressed her on why those on the left sanctimoniously decried the corrupting influence of money in politics while still taking loads of lobbyist money. (A flustered but clueless Pelosi responded at one point, "I never could understand — and I should — why the public paints us with the same brush as the Republicans when it comes to special-interest money in Washington, D.C.") The extended interview is a terrific moment of Stewart giving some much-needed tough love to the Democrats, hammering the politician on the Administration's failure both to implement the Affordable Care Act smoothly and to position the party as the sane, intelligent alternative to their partisan counterparts. "The things that you’re in control of? Make them work," Steward instructed her sternly. "[The GOP has] so embarrassed themselves with their knuckleheads that the Democrats have an opportunity to establish themselves with much more authority than ever before." Pelosi agreed, but Stewart's reaction suggested he wasn’t sure she really heard him. TG

jon stewart

Kathleen Sebelius on Obamacare

When U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared on The Daily Show October 7, 2013, her job was to do damage control: The recent roll-out of the Obamacare website had been a glitch-y disaster, and it was critical that she assure Stewart's young audience that the Administration knew what it was doing. Instead, she bombed, awkwardly oscillating between patronizing laughter and vague, unhelpful answers in the face of Jon's objections to the Democratic leadership's organizational incompetence and deeply flawed healthcare reform. "It's better today than it was yesterday, and it will keep getting better," Sebelius spouted near the end, her cheery words sounding like such an unconvincingly hollow sound bite. Stewart couldn’t even mask his smirking doubt: "I hope things work out," he told her. It didn't for Sebelius: Six months later, she resigned. TG

jon stewart

The Judith Miller Interview

When Stewart brought on former New York Times journalist Judith Miller earlier this year, he clearly knew what he felt about her role in the Iraq War, which he calls, "the most devastating mistake in foreign policy that we’ve made in 100 years." For an extended 22 minutes, he attacked the influential stories Miller produced in the days and months leading to the preemptive military action — her inaccurate sources, her lazy reporting and most importantly her interest in pushing a narrative about Saddam Hussein acquiring nuclear weapons. One particularly telling moment finds the former journalist justifying her actions with a fear she insists everyone should have felt; Stewart replies, "A reporter's job is not to be frightened." Though Miller budges not an inch, and Stewart confesses to feeling "incredibly sad" about the "institutional failure" the fiasco indicates, this segment once again drew attention to how a member of the Fourth Estate became a cog in the war machine. ML

jon stewart

Charleston

"I have one pretty simple job," Stewart said at the top of his program on June 18th, 2015. "I look at the news and I write jokes about it…I didn't do my job today." The reason, he claimed, was that the mass shooting that had happened in Charleston, South Carolina, the evening before hadn't really left him in a go-make-the-funny mood. So instead, the host spoke about our society's inability to neither heal nor even acknowledge "the gaping racial wound" that still plagues out country. He spoke of the disparity between dealing with threats from outside and threats in our own backyard. "We invaded two countries," he said, visibly exasperated, to keep Americans safe, but we can't seem to protect nine people in a church. There were a number of what-does-it-all-mean op-ed pieces that ran in the days after the tragedy; Stewart's direct address to his viewers instead asked why a country seems so "steeped in this culture" of hate refuses to recognize it. As with his 9/11 address, he seemed to be working something out in public — but still managed to get at the heart of the matter in a way that precious few had. DF

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