Letters From the Editor

Hackery Smackery Doo

Have you heard enough about Jon Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire yet? Yes? Well I’m sorry, because here’s one more opinion, and I really want to share.

Jon Stewart’s position is that Crossfire and its hosts, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, do a poor job of contributing to real, valuable public political discussion, that the show reduces any real debate into little more than “knee-jerk, reactionary talk.” For anyone who’s even seen five minutes of their show, it would be difficult to argue otherwise.

Stewart, however, also accuses Carlson and Begala of being “hacks,” and that’s really where the fun begins. Because this is when the Crossfire hosts begin playing “Who’s the Real Hack?” with Stewart. Carlson and Begala win that prize, and they really do it all on their own. Stewart practically tried to help them out. Here’s what I mean.

They want to know why, when Stewart had John Kerry on The Daily Show he didn’t ask him tougher questions.
Carlson: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you're accusing us of partisan hackery?
Stewart replies what we all know—that his show is a comedy show, that it’s not a real news program…
Stewart: The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.
…that, in fact, it’s shows like Crossfire that are really supposed to do the news.
Stewart: You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
So that’s the recap of the argument. Now, in the following exchange is where Stewart actually asks them to prove him wrong, to prove to him that he has a responsibility to ask tougher questions.
Stewart: So what I would suggest is, when you talk about you’re holding politicians’ feet to fire, I think that’s disingenuous. I think you’re…

Carlson: “How are you holding up?” I mean, come on.

Stewart: No, no, no. But my role isn’t, I don’t think…

Carlson: But you can ask him a real question, don’t you think, instead of saying…
When Stewart says, “I don’t think,” he’s looking to them and asking, “Well, is that my role, to hold their feet to the fire?” You can see it in the clip and watch it unfold on his face (at 5:22 into the segment available here).

Now, I’m not on Crossfire, and I don’t know what kind of qualifications you need to be a host on that show. I’d guess that you have to have some sort of political or debate experience. I don’t have either. Either way, Stewart asked them to tell him if he had a responsibility to be a tough newsman. The argument, at least what would have been a good argument, what would have proved these guys weren’t hacks would have been if they’d said, quite simply: Yes, you do have that responsibility.

It’s been in the news lately that “many” viewers between 18 and 34 get their news from The Daily Show. And just like when Charles Barkley said “I’m not a role model,” hey, we’re all terribly sorry if this is an inconvenience to you in any way, but that’s the price you pay for being a successful, celebrated athlete—you are a de-facto role model. Kids instantly idolize you, they want to be like you, thus they emulate you. And so you are a role model.

So the argument to Jon Stewart is simple: Because you have a large, significant audience, you have that responsibility. Because they’re listening to you, and only you, for their news, you have the responsibility to challenge them, politically. Though wouldn’t the show start to kind of suck after that? Who knows.

Stewart’s real point there, however—that they’re hacks and that this is hardly a real debate show, is proven by them not having the wherewithal to follow up on his simple question. Plus, it was awfully funny.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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