He was, inarguably, the finest fake journalist the United States ever produced. That he was, by training and inclination, a comedian only sweetens the irony – almost as much as do the dozens of accolades dedicated to him and written, eulogy-like, in the past tense.
But Jon Stewart, host and producer of The Daily Show (until last week, that is) has not passed beyond the veil. He’s just moved on. As for his reasons for leaving the satirical TV program that has all but saved critical thinking in the mainstream media and, by extension, society at large, he said in April, “Honestly, it was a combination of the limitations of my brain and a format that is geared towards following an increasingly redundant process, which is our political process. . .Watching these channels all day is incredibly depressing.”
I’ve been a political junkie for years – long before the 50-something Mr. Stewart came down the pike. Still, this former MTV host made the ritual skewering of elected officials, bureaucrats and, frequently, members of my own profession utterly exhilarating to behold.
His 2004 exchange with the hosts of the CNN political program, Crossfire, may have been the apogee of his particular craft.
“I would love to see a debate show,” he told the hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. “You’re doing theatre when you should be doing debate, which would be great. It’s not honest. What you do is not honest. What you are doing is partisan hackery. . .Stop hurting America.”
As the Globe and Mail correctly pointed out in its farewell to the man last week, “In his Crossfire rant, Mr. Stewart wasn’t trying to end a debate show; he was trying to provoke it into engaging in real debates – actual contests of ideas, an actual search for truth – rather than staged fights where professional self-promoters wearing colours of left and right, Republican and Democrat, put on the rhetorical equivalent of a professional wrestling match in the service of entertainment, not enlightenment.”
Of course, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart managed to be both. Recognizing this, even some its frequent targets managed managed good-natured goodbyes during the taping of the host’s final show last week.
“I’ll never forget you Jon, but I will be trying,” said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Added presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton: “And just when I’m running for president, what a bummer.”
As for Canada, Mr. Stewart seemed to have a soft spot. In anticipation of his sign-off, the CBC recently pulled together a compendium of “7 memorable Canadian moments” from the show, the top one being coverage of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford
Reports the CBC: “Amid the first reports he’d (Mr. Ford) been caught on video smoking crack. . . .Stewart told his audience. . .’Hey, hey, don’t judge him. . .Maybe he’s cleaning up the city – by smoking all the crack in it.’ The May 21 episode featured Canadian-born correspondents Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. Bee downplayed the scandal, insisting that smoking crack is ‘one of Canada’s most cherished pastimes’ and that Canadians frequently trade sexual favours for the drug. Stewart revisited Ford’s troubles later that year as the scandal widened to include allegations of drunk driving, snorting cocaine and consorting with a suspected prostitute. ‘This. . .guy is a one-man episode of Cops,’ Stewart said, before setting up a clip in which Ford refuted an allegation that he’d sought oral sex with a female staff member with the comment that he was a ‘married man’.
Ah, yes, good times. Jonny, Canada salutes you.