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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    I don’t actively seek The Daily Show, but caught it yesterday (Tuesday’s show). It was doing the good work, taking down pharma-funded congress critters. The interview with Ron Paul was ok-to-weak, but not because they were hard on Ron. Jon’s questions from the weenie left (but gosh, don’t we need government for some things?) were painful in their own right.

  2. One Fine Jay says:

    You forgot the McLaughlin group, which is also a lot of fun.

  3. James Joyner says:

    You forgot the McLaughlin group, which is also a lot of fun.

    I used to watch that religiously but grew tired of it years ago. Eleanor Clift is super annoying and McLaughlin’s bombastic shtick wore thin.

  4. One Fine Jay says:

    The joys of being a new immigrant to this country. I get to enjoy the McLaughlin Group, which, years after I first saw it, still isn’t as old to me as it is to you, DocJ.

  5. Trumwill says:

    The most ridiculous thing, to me, is that Bloggingheads often provides much more thoughtful discussion than any show I’ve seen on cable in quite some time.

  6. James Joyner says:

    The most ridiculous thing, to me, is that Bloggingheads often provides much more thoughtful discussion than any show I’ve seen on cable in quite some time.

    But few of these dialogs could gain an audience big enough for TV.

  7. peterh says:

    Jon is da man…..I mean, who else could move from Qum, Iran to QumShot and still be relevant…..

  8. Trumwill says:

    Which, of course, brings us right back to the main culprits in all of this: us.

  9. odograph says:

    FWIW, when I was in college I enjoyed McLaughlin’s “WRONNNG!!!” while my dad couldn’t stand it. I guess now it was age and situation. When you are in school you are taught kind of a consensus reality. As you transition out of it you enjoy dissent. Its the same reason Ayn Rand is big with those leaving school. (School is the anti-Rand environment.)

    There are probably a lot of political ages we go through, like “why doesn’t everyone do the right thing?” Or, “even if everyone isn’t going to do the right thing, what can we make work?” Or, “to heck with it, I’m going fishing.”

  10. If Jon Stewart could hurt America by exercising his free speech, then maybe America deserved to be hurt.

    I have no idea how you could remove all the other variables to be able to seriously answer Dr. Drezner’s question though. But I hope everyone keeps that question in mind as we head to the voting booth the next few years…

  11. Marty says:

    Well, if this blogging thing doesn’t work out, maybe you could get a gig writing headlines for the New York Post, or maybe the Washington Times.

    Why do you feel the need to write a declarative headline, and then contradict it in the body of the post? Seems to happen reasonably often.

  12. James Joyner says:

    Why do you feel the need to write a declarative headline, and then contradict it in the body of the post? Seems to happen reasonably often.

    This headline is both in the form of a question and ends with a question mark.

    Other times, I use a declarative form mostly for search engine optimization purposes. People are looking for, say, “Obama is a Socialist” rather than “Is Obama a Socialist” or “Obama Not a Socialist.”

  13. sam says:

    But, alas, that’s not where our political culture is at the moment.

    Yeah, Gresham’s law as applied to American political discourse.

  14. Wayne says:

    I find shows that gives both sides a chance to present their arguments from legit people not pretenders like Huffington pretending to be conservative a long time back, etc, to be much more informative than some reporter pretending to be objective while giving giving only one side of a story. How is that for a run on sentence?