Did Jon Stewart Hurt America?
Dan Drezner notes that “We’re coming up on the five-year anniversary of Jon Stewart’s verbal skewering of Crossfire in particular and the whole genre of left-right cable gabfests in general. Stewart said these kind of shows were ‘hurting America’ because of their general blather and failure to ask politicians good, sharp questions.”
Dan poses the Reaganesque question, Are you better off than you were five years ago?
Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire generated quite the navel-gazing among the commentariat, and played no small role in the eventual disappearance of Crossfire, The Capitol Gang, Hannity & Colmes, and shows of that ilk.
So, five years later, I have a half-assed blog question to ask — did Jon Stewart hurt America by driving these shows off the air?
If you’re expecting a lengthy defense of the Crossfire format right now, well, you’re going to be disappointed. My point rather, is to question what replaced these kinds of shows on the cable newsverse. Instead of Hannity & Colmes, you now have…. Hannity. Is this really an improvement?
An interesting question, indeed. As bad as those shows with people of the left and right yelling at each other were for the national discourse, they were arguably better than Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann on their own. Speaking for myself, I had more-or-less stopped watching said shows before Stewart’s rant, relying instead on the blogs and other online venues for my political debate. The only TV debate I catch, and that only occasionally, is the roundtable discussion on “This Week,” which I TiVo and watch time permitting.
Did the disappearance of the Crossfire-style shows hurt America? No. Then again, I don’t think the shows themselves were “hurting America,” either. They were simply a reflection of the fact that our political discourse had gotten increasingly polarized and canned — trends which, by the way, have continued since said shows went off the air.
Contra-Tucker Carlson, I actually believe shows like Stewart’s “Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” do a better job of illuminating issues than the screamfests did. But that’s a rather low bar. I much prefer the old “Firing Line” or “Dick Cavett” formats or, especially, the old “Firing Line Debate” programs. But, alas, that’s not where our political culture is at the moment.