Jon Stewart Not a Moderate!

Don't confuse moderation in tone with moderation in beliefs.

Via John Sexton, I see that a Steven Crowder thinks he has busted Jon Stewart’s claims to moderation:

John adds, “Jon Stewart is more popular than ever. His ratings are even rivaling Fox. Maybe he ought to just admit he has an agenda, really the same one as MSNBC, albeit with a different method of making the same point.”

The problem with all this is that Stewart has never hidden that he’s a liberal Democrat. His bosses saying that he “wears it on his sleeve” isn’t an admission, it’s a refutation; to wear something on one’s sleeve is the exact opposite of trying to hide it. He’s never made any bones about liking and agreeing with Rachel Maddow and liking Bill O’Reilly despite strongly disagreeing with him. At the same time, he’s strongly criticized ideological allies, notably Keith Olbermann, for over-the-top rhetoric.

The problem in this situation is one we run into all the time with commenters at OTB: confusing moderation in tone with moderation in beliefs. The “Rally to Restore Sanity” wasn’t a call for everyone to adopt centrist policy positions but rather to quit screaming at one another. In the episode announcing the rally, he unveiled the motto “Take it down a notch for America” and offered protest signs with messages such as “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

At the rally itself, he closed with a serious speech which began,

I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.

Unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems and illuminate problems heretofore unseen, or it can use its magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous-flaming-ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and tea partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rich Sanchez is an insult — not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put forth the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more.

Having watched most every episode of Stewart’s program the last two or three years, I’d say he lives up to that credo. Is he fair and balanced? No. He’s a comedian who views the world through a very liberal lens. He skewers extreme rhetoric on both sides of the aisle but, yes, he goes after conservatives more. He’s been known to build straw men in order to knock them down. Also, he uses words that have to be bleeped out a lot.

As to his guest selection, whether he has a general rule against conservative “pundits,” I couldn’t say. But he’s certainly had conservatives on and treated them fairly. Among the guests for the 2011 season thus far: Tim Pawlenty, T. Boone Pickens, Michael Steele, Ed Gillespie, Donald Rumsfeld, Rand Paul, Bret Baier, Mike Huckabee, and Phillip K. Howard. He’s had more Democratic politicians, I’d wager, but they’ve been heavily skewed to the Obama administration, which makes them very good “gets.” And most of the guests are actors, authors, and the like.

FILED UNDER: General
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. mantis says:

    Yes, Crowder and Sexton are rather dumb. Most of us who have encountered them already knew that.

  2. Chad S says:

    Stewart has an unofficial policy to have anyone on and let them say whatever they want to. He won’t interrupt them, but he will question them. Feel free to watch any of those interviews with conservative figures(he posted the entire interviews unaltered on the web). The Cable news could take a lesson from that.

  3. Nicole says:

    As to your last point about his guests, one of the things I really appreciate about Stewart is how he treats his guests on the opposite side of the ideological aisle from him. Those are the times when he tends to become less a comedian and more a serious interviewer, because he always seems genuinely eager to engage with the other side and have a rational conversation. As a rule he does a pretty fantastic job of practicing what he preached at the Rally to Restore Sanity.

  4. john personna says:

    The problem in this situation is one we run into all the time with commenters at OTB: confusing moderation in tone with moderation in beliefs. The “Rally to Restore Sanity” wasn’t a call for everyone to adopt centrist policy positions but rather to quit screaming at one another.

    Yes and no. The “Rally to Restore Sanity” was also about finding compromise and agreement. That is where one sort of moderation leads to the other.

  5. Robert in SF says:

    I love how he claims that Hollywood and the media have a liberal bias that they attempt to “hide at all costs”!

    And they instill fear in talent and representation to stifle voices of dissent and selectively edit the national dialogue!

    Talk about hyperbolic histrionics! This video certainly doesn’t offer any evidence of that kind of charge, so maybe I have to dig into his youtube postings to find the evidence? Cause the phrase “at any cost” is kinda chilling! Did they murder someone? Or blackmail? What could that possibly mean? Or could it be ….

    Project much? About the FUD that the right wing should own the copyright on…

    I don’t know where this guy gets off making this claim based off that email when the text right after that indicates that they book conservative politicians, and relgious leaders…just not pundits (unless they have a book out? What’s a pundit anyway? How do we define that?)

    But I do agree with his point about the faces: Jon Stewart mugs an awful lot, and I stopped finding that funny a while back.

  6. Ben says:

    That video was uncomfortable to watch, because he apparently thinks he has discovered some amazing bombshell of a scoop. Unfortunately, not only is his big scoop something we’ve all known for years, but it’s also something that Stewart has never been shy about admitting himself.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: “The “Rally to Restore Sanity” was also about finding compromise and agreement. That is where one sort of moderation leads to the other.”

    Fair enough. And, no, a system of intricate checks and balances can’t work if the parties see each other as The Enemy, rather than countrymen who happen to disagree.

  8. Dustin says:

    In the previous video to this, Crowder more specifically states, he is upset because he believe this email demonstrates that the Daily Show doesn’t select people based on merit, but by excluding points of view that don’t agree with their own.

    As James already pointed out, the guest list on the show proves that wrong, but if you actually freeze and read the email, it says this;

    “On the conservative front, we never book conservative pundits. We stick with conservative politicians, sometimes high profile news anchors, and sometimes religious leaders.”

    But Crowder, while slamming Stewart for selectively editing to control the dialogue, focuses only on a fragment of that sentence, ignoring how the rest of the sentence doesn’t support his assertion.

    As stated, Stewart has never attempted to hide that he is liberal, or that the majority of his fan base isn’t liberal. It seems pretty obvious to me that Crowder really doesn’t know much about The Daily Show outside of his preconceived notions.

    But, at least he’s getting the attention he was after to begin with.

  9. reid says:

    I don’t think Stewart is as liberal as is made out in the post. I see him more as a pragmatic, slightly liberal guy. (That’s how I’d describe myself, actually.) Of course, with the way the window has been sliding to the right for years, I guess that is very, very liberal.

  10. Jay Tea says:

    Dustin, thanks. You saved me getting that quote specifically.

    “On the conservative front, we never book conservative pundits. We stick with conservative politicians, sometimes high profile news anchors, and sometimes religious leaders.”

    I’ve seen quite a few liberal pundits on The Daily Show,

    The point I got was that Stewart is open to certain types of conservatives, but not all the same types of liberals he will welcome. And that is, by definition, unbalanced.

    J.

  11. jwest says:

    @john personna: “The “Rally to Restore Sanity” was also about finding compromise and agreement. That is where one sort of moderation leads to the other.”

    If you have Hitler on one side with a plan to kill 14 million Jews, and you’re on the other side hoping to see that no Jews are killed, where do you find compromise?

    There were people who rationalized moderation and sought compromises of a sort with Hitler. I don’t view them as models of reasonableness. Sometimes, you just can’t meet in the middle.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @jwest: Well . . . yeah. But who is Hitler in the context of US domestic politics? Certainly, not the president or the leadership of either party in either House. Nancy Pelosi, by virtue of representing one of the most liberal districts in the country, is the most ideological of the lot. By she’s well within the bounds of the American political tradition; she’s hardly a mass murderer intent on invading her neighbors and gassing the Jews.

  13. reid says:

    James: I thought he was referring to some of the more strident, uncompromising, extreme Republicans. Not sure why you chose to pick on Pelosi.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @reid: Well, first, jwest is more likely to object to Pelosi than a comparable Republican. And, second, she’s the most extreme of the very powerful leaders in US politics. But, I hasten to add, that’s not very extreme.

  15. Dustin says:

    @Jay Tea I’ve seen quite a few liberal pundits on The Daily Show

    I don’t think that’s the case really either. In face, I’d consider there to be more conservative pundits on this list than liberal;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Daily_Show_guests#Other_political_guests

    Colbert has pundits on, Stewart seems to rarely.

    And again, Crowder’s is trying to charge that The Daily Show said they don’t book conservatives, not just “certain types of conservatives.”

  16. jwest says:

    The point of the comparison was to show that in certain circumstances, no compromise is the right thing to do.

    Portion of comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    If you care enough, compromising is simply selling out.

    @jwest: Further attempts to hijack unrelated threads with your pet theories on race will result in your ban from the site. Consider this your final warning. – jhj

  17. PJ says:

    On the conservative front, we never book conservative pundits. We stick with conservative politicians, sometimes high profile news anchors, and sometimes religious leaders.

    I’ve seen a number of conservative pundits on the Daily Show; Jonah Goldberg and Bill Kristol are both pundits, aren’t they? I’m pretty sure they aren’t politicians, news anchors or religious leaders.

  18. Paul L. says:

    PJ

    I’ve seen a number of conservative pundits on the Daily Show; Jonah Goldberg and Bill Kristol are both pundits

    So when is the Daily Show ever going to release the full unedited Jonah Goldberg interview instead of the hacked up “choppy as hell” one they broadcasted?

  19. john personna says:

    Lol, I feel like I should pay you $5 jwest, for playing that stupid Hitler card.

  20. jwest says:

    Joyner,

    Would you care to repost my comment and explain exactly what you’re talking about?

  21. jwest says:

    COMMENTER HAS BEEN BANNED

  22. Crowder is a Stewart wanna be, with the difference being not his politics but that, unlike Stewart, he just isn’t all that funny.

    I’m well aware of what Stewart’s politics are, and Colbert’s. And you know what? I don’t really care. I watch them because they’re funny.

  23. mattb says:

    @J wrote:

    The point I got was that Stewart is open to certain types of conservatives, but not all the same types of liberals he will welcome. And that is, by definition, unbalanced.

    True, but where exactly is there a promise of balance? Even if the Daily Show preported to be a real news show, is there a need for balance?

    Generally speaking “balance” (which often gets lopped in with “objectivity”) in the news/media is a creation of the 20th century US Journalism and has done far more damage than good (see Global Warming and Birtherism as two cases of this). While many may bristle at this idea, Fox New’s “Fair and Balanced” coverage (complete with tongue-in-cheek each time it’s said) is far more in line with traditional American Journalism (and news in most other areas of the world) than CNN’s attempt to be balanced by presenting two sides of each viewpoint in a way that suggests some form of false equivalence.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    I’m well aware of what Stewart’s politics are, and Colbert’s. And you know what? I don’t really care. I watch them because they’re funny.

    Bingo.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    I was trying to think of a conservative comic or equivalent to Jon Stewart who I enjoyed despite politics, but couldn’t come up with one. The closest analogy might be some actors — Tom Selleck for example. I like his show well enough on a Friday night, and don’t hold it against him that he is a sadly benighted conservative. And really, where would the world of wonderfully cheesy sci fi be without Charleton Heston?

  26. Neil Hudelson says:

    Michael,

    Adam Carolla is the closest I can think of someone who I find even mildly funny on the conservative side of politics–and even then, he only sometimes falls into the ‘conservative’ label.

    That’s not to say there aren’t extremely funny conservatives, just none in any sort of prominent role right now.

  27. reid says:

    Well, there is Dennis Miller, though I haven’t seen him in years and suspect that he lost his comedic touch when he went conservative.

  28. matt says:

    Well, there is Dennis Miller, though I haven’t seen him in years and suspect that he lost his comedic touch when he went conservative.

    I used to enjoy Dennis Miller but I haven’t seen a funny bit by him in a long time.. I think it coincided with his swerve rightwards years ago.

  29. Robert in SF says:

    As far as conservative comedians, don’t forget Drew Carey, the Libertarian!

  30. matt says:

    As far as conservative comedians, don’t forget Drew Carey, the Libertarian!

    Really? I can enjoy him 😛

  31. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    Michael, Neil–

    You know, I can’t come up with many good conservative comics either. Dennis Miller used to be really funny and witty, but I think he was still on the political fence in the ’90’s. Now he’s not only not funny, but a sad excuse for a human being.

    But what about Jeff Foxworthy? I believe he’s a conservative, and he can be funny as all get out.

    Neil:

    –and even then, he only sometimes falls into the ‘conservative’ label.

    And even then, he also only sometimes falls into the “funny” label.

  32. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    Michael–

    And really, where would the world of wonderfully cheesy sci fi be without Charleton Heston?

    Indeed, my friend, indeed.

  33. george says:

    Stewart is enjoyable because he’s funny. The same thing with Dennis Miller, who was always fairly conservative but quite funny – though I haven’t seem him since his NFL stint, so I don’t know if he’s still around.

    Part of what makes Stewart so watchable is that he can take on important issues without taking himself (as opposed to the issue) too seriously.

  34. michael reynolds says:

    Howard Stern would also count as a libertarian comic. He ran on the LP ticket in NY IIRC.

  35. michael reynolds says:

    Eric:

    Planet of the Apes. Omega Man and Soylent Green. It’s an unmatched.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    An unmatched oeuvre.

    I meant to say.

  37. sam says:

    Kelsey Grammer is a conservative, and he’s pretty funny.