Jon Stewart vs. Fox News

Daily Show host Jon Stewart spent 15 minutes on yesterday's Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace trying to explain why he thinks Fox is a propaganda machine.

Daily Show host Jon Stewart spent 15 minutes on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace trying to explain why he thinks Fox is a propaganda machine.

Daily Mail (“‘You are insane!’ The moment comedian Jon Stewart lost his cool with Fox News host Chris Wallace“):

The audience were shown a transcript of Mr Stewart describing Fox News as a, ‘relentless agenda-driven 24 hour news opinion propaganda delivery system.

Mr Wallace the asked the comedian: ‘Where do you come up with this stuff.’

Stewart responded: ‘Uh, it’s actually quite easy.’

After repeated prodding, Wallace then played a clip of Mr Stewart comparing a video of Sarah Palin’s recent bus tour to a herpes commercial.

Mr Stewart erupted: ‘You’re insane… Here’s the difference between you and I. ‘I’m a comedian first. My comedy is informed by an ideological background, there’s no question about that. But the thing that you will never understand…is that Hollywood, yeah, they’re liberal, but that’s not their primary motivating force. I’m not an activist. I am a comedian.’

Addressing issues of bias in the main stream media, Stewart responded:  ‘Do I want my voice heard?‘Absolutely, that’s why I got into comedy. Am I an activist, in your mind? A partisan ideological activist?

Mr Wallace answered with a short, ‘Yeah.’

‘Okay, then I disagree with you.’ Stewart said.

Rising in temper again, he said: ‘You can’t understand, because of the world that you live in, that there is not a designed ideological agenda on my part to affect partisan change because that’s the soup you swim in. And I appreciate that, I understand it. It reminds me of in ideological regimes, they can’t understand that there is free media other places because they receive marching orders.’

Composure: Despite flashes of anger, Mr Stewart did slip back in ‘comedy’ mode

Denying that there was a deliberate liberal bias in the mainstream media, Mr Stewart maintained that: ‘The bias of the mainstream media is towards sensationalism, conflict and laziness. ‘The embarrassment is that I am given credibility in this world because of the disappointment that the public has in what the news media tells them.’

Through gritted teeth Mr Stewart added: ‘In the polls who is the most consistently misinformed media viewers. Fox, Fox viewers. Consistently. Every poll.’

But in a confession, he confided: ‘There is no question I do not tell the entire story,’ before defusing the situation by telling Mr Wallace, ‘My Beef isn’t with you.’

The actual interview was less heated than the Mail portrays it. The video is embedded below:

Both Stewart and Wallace are somewhat wrong here. While there’s not much doubt in my mind that Fox is agenda-driven, Stewart oversells the degree to which there’s a partisan agenda. Fox, like every other media outlet Stewart criticizes, is in the hype business and willing to elide inconvenient facts to sex up the story. But, yes, most of the shows do this in an anti-liberal, anti-Democrat, anti-Obama manner. They’re going after a particular audience rather than a mass audience in order to differentiate themselves from the competition.

But Wallace’s notion that the New York Times and other major media outlets are party organs for the Democrats, pushing a Progressive agenda, is absurd. Their ownership and editorial pages are liberal and there’s a bias in the way they tell some stories. But that’s a function of an elite, metropolitan perspective rather than some secret scheme to get Democrats elected.

Stewart, even moreso than Rush Limbaugh, does in fact hide too much behind the “I’m just a humble entertainer” facade. Yes, he’s a comedian first. But he is a major opinion shaper and he not only knows it but relishes the fact. But, while he’s a liberal–and makes no bones about it–I’ve watched the show for some time and very seldom feel like he’s trying to cram a partisan agenda down my throat. He’s very hard on his fellow Democrats. But, yes, he’s harder on Republicans. Partly, it’s because they’ve been easy targets of late. Partly, it’s because he find Republican arguments more alien, and thus funnier. But he’s by no means a shill for the Democratic Party.

One interesting tidbit from the show: Stewart voted for George H.W. Bush over Dukakis in 1988. I’d not have guessed that.

FILED UNDER: Media, Popular Culture
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. james says:

    Excuse me James, are you saying the MSM isn’t Partisan? Ok Net netural?

    My local Startal-gram Fort Worth run a full page editoral and Picture of OB
    during 2008 election. No such accommodation for the opposition.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    C’mon…Stewart & Rushbo…holy false equivalency Batman.
    As for your claim that Fox is just another news outlet I would repeat Stewarts point that Fox news viewers are consistently mis-informed. That’s important – consistently mis-informed. What do you think would be a better indicator of an agenda-driven propaganda delivery system? Do you think this is because the people at Fox are bad at their jobs, or is it something else?

  3. MM says:

    The Daily Mail? Dishonestly represent something? Well I never.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    As if to prove Stewarts point Fox cut out his comments about Sammons issuing marching orders.

  5. mattb says:

    @James — attempting to argue for bias on the opinion/editorial section is a failure to understand the different sections of the newspaper.

    There’s a long-standing difference between the editorial section (where you are expected to have clear biases) and the reporting section where in theory it’s supposed to be balls and strikes.

    When Fox News claims its “Fair and Balanced” they are — in theory — talking about their news department versus their personality/opinion shows. So for example, unless they are “mugging,” there is no question that Hannity, Beck, or O’Reilly have a bias. The same is true for personalities on the other networks. The reporting staff and anchors (like Shep Smith) on the other hand are supposed to be “neutral.”

    The same, btw, largely holds true for the WSJ as well — very conservative editorial section — and a far more neutral (occasionally accused of liberal bias) news room.

    This isn’t to say that newsrooms are not liberally biased, but it’s no where near the epidemic that conservative media makes out in order to continue it’s long and profitable martyrization.

  6. mattb says:

    On thing — though he’s being extra cynical about it — Stewart gets especially right is:

    ‘The bias of the mainstream media is towards sensationalism, conflict and laziness.’

    Generally speaking this is the case — and with the increase in website metrics and monitoring applications, there’s a good chance its going to get worse before it gets better.

    Investigative journalism ROI is notoriously low as opposed to “it if bleeds it leads” material.

  7. Pug says:

    I agree with Norm. Limbaugh and Stewart is false equivalency.

    Stewart never goes on long, serious bitter rants like Limbaugh. The difference is Stewart really is a comedian and Limbaugh is a propagandist.

    Fox tried humor if you don’t remember. It was that awful, unwatchable late night mess that I can’t even remember the name of. It was terrible.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Hey Norm and @Pug: I’m not arguing that Stewart and Limbaugh are analogues, merely that they both mix entertainment and political persuasion while claiming to mostly do the former. Limbaugh is a more agenda-driven host and Stewart is more pure entertainment; but they’re both major influencers.

  9. Loretta S says:

    Jon Stewart seems defensive, especially considering what he did to Steven Crowder. I find it amazing that a famous guy like Stewart would pressure a 23-year-old comedian’s manager to drop him just because Crowder called him liberal. He’s obviously liberal even if he voted Republican 23 years ago and he should have thicker skin than he’s showing.

    Crowder video:

    http://tinyurl.com/43xg322

  10. Hey Norm says:

    @ James….
    Name one instance when a politician has taken a stand, been criticized by Stewart, and then walked back what they said and kow-towed to Stewart.
    What other credits as an entertainer…other than his own claim…does Rushbo have?

  11. sam says:

    “While there’s not much doubt in my mind that Fox is agenda-driven, Stewart oversells the degree to which there’s a partisan agenda. Fox, like every other media outlet Stewart criticizes, is in the hype business and willing to elide inconvenient facts to sex up the story”

    Jeepers, JJ, remind me again how many official Fox contributers were forced to leave as they were running for the Republican nomination? And how many more might be so forced?

  12. TheColourfield says:

    @ Loretta

    From your link

    “”I created a video [posted immediately below] in which I released a private email from a senior producer at the Daily Show in which they said, ‘We never book conservative pundits.'” said Crowder”

    Completely Untrue.

    Kristol, Goldberg, O’Reilly, Huckabee, Gingrich. etc. have all been on TDS.

  13. mattb says:

    Name one instance when a politician has taken a stand, been criticized by Stewart, and then walked back what they said and kow-towed to Stewart.
    What other credits as an entertainer…other than his own claim…does Rushbo have?

    HeyNorm has a point here. Especially in the Post-Tea Party world, Rush remains an important (though not necessarily as important as he thinks) King Maker (or at the least king supporter).

    (Though for better or worse, both have had either a President or Veep as a guests on their show).

  14. Here’s the difference between you and I. ‘I’m a comedian first. My comedy is informed by an ideological background, there’s no question about that. But the thing that you will never understand…is that Hollywood, yeah, they’re liberal, but that’s not their primary motivating force. I’m not an activist. I am a comedian.’

    I’m a fan of the Daily Show, but I find John Stewart’s clown nose on, clown nose off routine annoying. On one hand his views on journalism and politics to be taken seriously, but whenever anyone challenges him on his views he resorts to the lame “But I’m just a comedian” cop out.

  15. steve says:

    “Jeepers, JJ, remind me again how many official Fox contributers were forced to leave as they were running for the Republican nomination? And how many more might be so forced?”

    If they fire the five or six candidates for POTUS, they will still have Rove. Offhand, I cannot remember any other news organization hiring a president’s chief political advisor. Anyone else?

    Steve

  16. Hey Norm says:

    Stormy…um…he is a comedian.

  17. Rick DeMent says:

    Put me on the list of people who want to hear about the Democrats who have had to walk something back, anything because Stewart didn’t like their take on an issue …

  18. Jay Tea says:

    Colourfield, you DO realize that the person you’re calling a liar isn’t Crowder, but the Daily Show producer who sent the e-mail? That it was not Crowder who said the Daily Show doesn’t book conservative pundits, but the Daily Show’s own representative?

    Crowder’s “offense” wasn’t in making something up about the Daily Show. It was in publishing a letter from them to his agent. And for that, he’s now looking for a new agent.

    J.

  19. TheColourfield says:

    Sorry J,

    If you viewed that video and concluded that Crowder was anything more than an attention seeking assclown then you are a buffoon.

    He was ignored, thought he was more than an assclown, and tried to spin his slap down as more than it was.

    On a side-note, I’ve read your posts and you are about as sharp as a sack of wet mice* so I’m not surprised.

    *Thank you Warner Bros.

  20. Jay Tea says:

    Colour, you seem to think that if you throw enough condescending insults into your comments, that will obscure the fact that you have no substance to your rebuttal — and are demonstrably wrong on the facts.

    Well, that’s not quite true. You barely brushed up against the facts.

    Here’s the video.
    Pay attention (if you can, and that’s debatable) to the 2:55 – 3:15 part. Crowder shows an e-mail from (NAME REDACTED), Daily Show Senior Producer, to Crowder’s agent.

    The Daily Show’s official representative says:

    “I did receive everything and did review the material. Steven is definitely a talented guy, but unfortunately not the right guest for us. We get pitched lots of people, but with only four guest slots each week, the booking process is very refined. There are lots of comedians who would like to be on the show, but those we book have a direct relationship with Jon, usually people he’s known for years. On the conservative front, we never book conservative pundits. We stick with conservative politicians, sometimes high profile news anchors, and sometimes religious leaders. I’m sorry I can’t help you out this time, but I hope you’ll stay in touch as you think of other clients that might be right for us.”

    Those are the exact words of the unnamed female senior producer at the Daily Show.

    Note that the Daily Show has never said that the e-mail was misquoted or fabricated or that they were #HACKED. Rather, they were displeased that it was published. Because it was a “clown nose off” moment that they now regret.

    Arguing the truth of the statement is irrelevant. What is important is that it was said by an official representative of the Daily Show — whose sole response was to lash out over it being published. That they’ve had conservative pundits on doesn’t mean that this is a lie — it could just be that they’re inconsistent about enforcing the policy stated explicitly by their official representative.

    They said it. Let them explain it, clarify it, or retract it.

    Or, if they’re feeling honest, own it.

    J.

  21. TheColourfield says:

    He took a private email and published it because they hurt his fee fees.

    Assclown.

    And spare me, your less a commentator and more a collection of wingnut talking points.

    Wizbang is about as clueless as it gets. If you were any dumber they would have to water you twice a week so you could live.

  22. TheColourfield says:

    Obviously you’re for your in previous comment.

  23. James says:

    No one can seriously argue that Fox News is not conservatively biased, and that the most misinformed people in America get their news from Fox News. Tea Partiers. QED. It’s just annoying, silly trolling to claim otherwise. And a waste of effort to respond to it.

    But @James, could you please explain what you mean by Stewart being a “major opinion shaper”? I don’t see that Stewart is an actual *shaper* of opinions, in the mode of Limbaugh and his dittoheads. Maybe you mean something else that I’m not understanding? How does Stewart actually shape opinion, as opposed to satire, commentary, reflection? Serious question.

  24. Jay Tea says:

    Actually, colour, I’m on a thrice-weekly watering schedule currently — bit of a personal problem I’d rather not discuss.

    And thanks for confirming that all you have are cheesy insults that you wrap in what you think is intellectual, high-falutin’ language.

    To reiterate: you were wrong about the source of the key quote, wrong about what it said, and wrong about what it means — but since he DID A RUDE THING, that lets you pretend that Stewart’s rep never said what she said.

    Good little doofus. It must have taken some effort, to so completely avoid any actual substance and focus just on me… gosh, I’m blushing. You even took the effort to review my blog before instead of discussing the matter at hand. Nicely dodged!

    J.

  25. There’s no comparison between Stewart and Limbaugh.

    Rush Limbaugh has failed on television multiple times. He has never been able to take what he does and translate it to a television viewing audience. The only person who has failed more times on television than Rush would be Tucker Carlson.

    Now, Mr. Beck, on the other hand, has made money on television. I think that’s a better comparison.

  26. Jay Tea says:

    I’d disagree, Warren. Stewart’s never really ventured out of his comfort zone of TV, so judging him on the basis of “successful on radio and TV” doesn’t really fit.

    J.

  27. James Joyner says:

    @James: The Daily Show is, first and foremost, entertainment. It’s a comedic satire show using current events as its basis. But, yes, he’s absolutely the most influential political commenter on the center-left. He validates the metropolitan elite worldview while shaping it. And if there’s a more powerful media critic in the country, of either persuasion, I can’t think of him.

  28. Hey Norm says:

    Now James is getting closer. Stewart is a satirist who sees a partisan political system, including the media, that is broken. The unfortunate fact is that it is the Republicans and their propaganda machine that is the most broken part. Case in point – One of his most powerful rants has been the 9/11 responders bill and how the same republicans who wrap themselves in the flag and exploit 9/11 for political gain refused to pay for the health care of the people made sick by it. He has also shown repeatedly how the feedback loop works between the so-called straight news at Fox and their so-called opinion shows… how the news legitimizes non-issues raised by the opinion shows. But Wallace said it best when he admitted that Fox provides the “other side” of the story…you know…like climate change denial, birtherism, Mau Mau Colonialism, etc.

  29. James Joyner says:

    @Hey Norm: I’ve seen just about every episode of Stewart’s show the last 2-3 years. My sense–and I really haven’t watched Fox much in the last few years–is that most of the Fox shows airing before 6 pm are aimed at a rural, geriatric audience. It’s not so much that they’re trying to feed a conservative agenda as feed the outrage and sensationalistic needs of that audience to keep them from changing the channel.

    Stewart readily admits that the main news shows on Fox (Special Report, Fox Report, and Fox News Sunday) are relatively unbiased. But the morning show, Fox and Friends, and most of the daytime fare is simply unwatchable even by conservatives.

    The nighttime schedule is pure punditry of mixed quality. Hannity is a hack. O’Reilly is something of a blowhard but he’s reasonably fair.

  30. hey norm says:

    @ James…
    The interesting thing I’ve picked up from Stewart…and I watch maybe once a week at most…is how the shows before 6pm pick up on some small item from the propaganda shows the night before, amplify it and attempt to legitimize it (you say: “…feed the outrage and sensationalistic needs…”) so that the propaganda shows can then make an even bigger deal of it. eg: Dick Morris says something about Obama and student indoctrination on O’Reilly. Then the next day the so-called news programs run packages expanding on the strawman: “Some people say this is a student indoctrination program run by the Obama administration”. Then that night on Hannity runs a bunch of the Fox news clips in order to make an even bigger deal of Obama’s scary student indoctrination program. Soon after you see wingnut commenters here talking about Obama’s evil student indoctrination programs. It really is genius…and you can’t seperate the two the way you can the WSJ news pages and the ridiculously agenda-driven op-ed pages.

  31. One of his most powerful rants has been the 9/11 responders bill and how the same republicans who wrap themselves in the flag and exploit 9/11 for political gain refused to pay for the health care of the people made sick by it.

    I’d say this is an example of Stewart at his worst, indeed, an example of him doing the very thing he complains about about the rest of the new media doing. First responders in New York already have medical coverage. The question wasn’t whether their health problems would be covered or not; it’s who should pay for it. Every other state and city in the country has to cover their first responders themselves. Should New York city be singled out for special treatment as the one city in the country where that is now a federal responsibility? Stewart never acknowledges, much less addresses this issue. He just reduces the whole thing to a simple “if you vote against this, you must hate fire fighters” strawman.

  32. bandit says:

    as he said to Chris Wallace “you’re insane”

    Name calling is the zenith of progressive thought.

  33. I’d disagree, Warren. Stewart’s never really ventured out of his comfort zone of TV

    Jeebus, learn to read an IMDB page.

    Stewart has been doing movies, stand up comedy, and writing gigs since the mid-1990s (albeit, not with great success or distinction). He’s been, literally, everywhere, working as a comedian and not just on television.

  34. Stewart has been doing movies

    And by his own admission, he’s been doing them badly. 😉

  35. An Interested Party says:

    Name calling is the zenith of progressive thought.

    Please…as if the same couldn’t be said of conservative thought…

  36. Mark E says:

    James, it is not absurd at all to call the msm schills for the dems. The evidence is so overwhelming that it feels foolish even having to say it. You gotta be joking.

  37. andrew says:

    “Stormy…um…he is a comedian.”

    Who takes himself way too seriously. Hence the horribleness of his crappy show.

  38. Socrates says:

    Well I suppose it’s true that Fox News Sunday is “relatively” unbiased – but that’s only because most of the rest of FOX is ridiculous winger propaganda.

    You see it the most in the questions that are asked in interviews. It’s hard not to like Wallace, but his questions to people like Sarah Palin are almost entirely softballs.

    Why is that?

    Also, if you watched Stewart last night, he showed the best part of the interview. Over and over, FOX hits the “fair and balanced” mantra, and Wallace tries to stick to this line at all times (as he did when he was on The Daily Show a while back.)

    But in the back-and-forth on Fox News Sunday, Wallace said that the MSM was liberal. And then Wallace said, quite explicitly: “and we tell the other side of the story.”

    Game, set, match.

  39. andrew says:

    “I’d say this is an example of Stewart at his worst, indeed, an example of him doing the very thing he complains about about the rest of the new media doing. First responders in New York already have medical coverage. The question wasn’t whether their health problems would be covered or not; it’s who should pay for it. Every other state and city in the country has to cover their first responders themselves. Should New York city be singled out for special treatment as the one city in the country where that is now a federal responsibility? Stewart never acknowledges, much less addresses this issue. He just reduces the whole thing to a simple “if you vote against this, you must hate fire fighters” strawman.”

    Bingo. Typical dishonesty and demagoguery out of Stewart. But according to the zombies who watch him, he’s just a “comedian” so it’s okay.

  40. Hence the horribleness of his crappy show.

    Which, if true, wouldn’t have put Stewart on Fox in the first place.

    I get that people want to denigrate the guy and his show and his impact, but the conservative movement has tried, several times, to replicate his format and his success and they have flamed out every time. The conservative movement can’t do topical comedy and succeed. Where’s Dennis Miller, by the way? Where’s the success that Dennis Miller should have had by now? How is it that Dennis Miller doesn’t have a half hour on Fox doing similar kinds of things? Or does he? I can’t seem to find him on the radar. The last thing he did was something called “the Big Speech.” Did anyone see it?

    Stewart has the right combination of indignation and comedic timing to make what he does work.

    Oh, and he has a great writing staff and a slew of top notch researchers. People tend to forget that, too.

  41. mattb says:

    Actually @Andrew, in terms of crappy “news-tainment” show its pretty hard to imagine something worse that the DOA, rapidly cancelled (6 months) abomination called the “Fox Half-Hour News Hour.” It’s a great example of how rapid ideological programs tend to make for really unengaging entertainment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_1/2_Hour_News_Hour

    Oh and before you claim liberal bias in it’s cancellation, it aired on Fox New and was produced BY Fox News.

  42. Michael says:

    James, I hate to add something so late to such a long comment thread, but I thought you might be interested to read this with regard to the original topic here: http://www.desmogblog.com/jon-stewart-1-politifact-0-fox-news-viewers-are-most-misinformed

  43. bains says:

    But Wallace’s notion that the New York Times and other major media outlets are party organs for the Democrats, pushing a Progressive agenda, is absurd. Their ownership and editorial pages are liberal and there’s a bias in the way they tell some stories. But that’s a function of an elite, metropolitan perspective rather than some secret scheme to get Democrats elected.

    James, this post has been bugging me since I first read it. First off, you are putting words into Chris Wallace’s mouth that he never said. He merely asked Stewart if he would be willing to attribute to the MSM, and NYTimes specifically, the same motives Steward accuses FNC of.

    But more importantly, I am surprised that you refuse to acknowledge that the MSM runs cover for Democrats. If they are not, explain why both the NYTimes and WaPost have been attacking Darrell Issa over his investigations into the ATF’s Fast and Furious program? Or why they haven’t been all over the President for screwing up who he himself has presented the Medal of Honor? There are ample examples of similar scandals and screw-ups that the MSM has blared out about when done by the GOP. That you refuse to acknowledge this double standard calls to question your reliability in honest commentary in a host of issues.

    Please note, I am not asking that you bash the MSM, as we both depend upon the media to keep us informed; no, I would just hope that when stories that the MSM publishes that cover political, social, and economic issues, that you acknowledge that their bias is inherently leftist and reflexively protective of the Democrat POV, or the Democrat in question (up until the public revulsion quotient is beyond their ability to control – John Edwards or Anthony Weiner anyone?).

  44. Saxxon says:

    @mattb: You’re pitching the same talking points that Fox uses to justify its propaganda machine. Fox claims that their opinion shows differ from their “news.” That is a distinction without a difference. Both departments constantly push the conservative part line.