No Respect At All: What Chris Wallace and Jon Stewart Got Wrong

I want to talk about Chris Wallace's interview with Jon Stewart on "Fox News Sunday" this week. I watched it with a slowly shaking head, saddened and disappointed by what I'd hoped would be a rousing and thought-provoking interview, and not merely another forum for partisan mud-slinging and Fox-bashing and general entertainer-disrespecting. I'd really thought: Chris Wallace is no Bill O'Reilly, he's no Glenn Beck (Stewart even pointed out as much), so this interview will be an honest discussion between two ideologically opposed pundits about the biases of their respective television forums.  It wasn't.

Watch Part I here:


In the interview, the usually loveable, goofy, self-effacing Stewart comes across like kind of a dick -- he's hostile and openly unhappy to be there.  But he's also a well-spoken, well-informed, and well-justified dick, who makes a case for his role in the media and his show's political underpinnings much better than Wallace does. Wallace, whom I've always thought was a rather genial, likable guy himself, comes across as humorless and out-of-touch; a stern, unyielding grandparent bent on disciplining an unruly whippersnapper. This is no more clearly evidenced than in his choice of arbitrary, ineffectual Comedy Central clips intended to illustrate bias and disreputability, but which succeeded in demonstrating, if anything, how completely Wallace/Fox misunderstand the purview of "The Daily Show."

What Wallace -- and, I think Fox generally -- doesn't get, is that Stewart occupies a uniquely powerful role in the media, especially among the demographic least touched by Fox News.  "The Daily Show" is the primary news source for millions of people -- nay, millions of voters.  So I can't help but think it was unwise to bring Stewart on the show only to throw him on the Tea Party pyre, with Wallace desperately lighting matches underneath him in a growing windstorm of counter-arguments.

How much better would it have been if the interview had been conducted by someone conservative and intelligent like Wallace, but someone who actually grasped what "The Daily Show" was all about, who processed Stewart's role as an entertainer-and-comedian-cum-newsman, who understood Stewart's brand of satire and was willing to admit the ripeness of the modern political climate to be parodied?  What if the host had been someone who didn't take himself quite so seriously, and who, with genuine respect and curiosity and openness, had asked Stewart urgent and deeply interesting questions about his role in the changing media environment? Who would have pressed Stewart on some tough questions about his influence and culpability? Who would've listened to Stewart's answers?  Wouldn't that have at least accomplished something for the Right?

Watch Part II here:


The most interesting part in the interview, I thought, was the all-too-brief discussion where, after Stewart asserted he was a comedian first and a pundit second (shortly before he told Wallace that "what I do is harder than what you do," which may be true but was kind of a dick thing to say), they discussed whether Stewart avoided being held accountable for his media criticism by being a comedian.

No Respect At All!
Did you get that? Does Jon Stewart avoid accountability by hiding behind the shield of comedy?  HOW INTERESTING A QUESTION IS THAT?  And a related (but of course unasked) question, does Stewart's shield benefit society by allowing him to deliver more transparent social commentary, or does it grant his particular bias an unfair social immunity?  Tangentially: how is Stewart's admitted personal bias reflected in the segments on the show (not just his interviews)?  Does "The Daily Show" have a rubric by which they choose news stories to parody?  Is there any quota system that balances satire dolled out to the left and right?  Is it Stewart's assertion that a comedy show is allowed to be biased while a reputable news source isn't, or is his argument merely that "The Daily Show" is open about its bias, and Fox News should be, too?  These questions would've sparked such a totally interesting, stimulating, entertaining discussion!

I don't agree with everything Stewart says, but I do think he makes cogent points worthy of a more respectful debate, especially about the way the Right has risen up to fill the new arena of 24-hour news more adeptly than the Left, and how that changes the political playing-field.  If you want to watch the interview and share your thoughts, I'd love to hear them. But please, watch the entire interview, not some of the three-minute yelling clips circulating on Youtube.
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8 comments

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Anonymous
AUTHOR
June 21, 2011 at 1:52 PM delete

Bret Baier, or even Brit Hume, would have been a better choice.

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Preston
AUTHOR
June 21, 2011 at 4:09 PM delete

The problem with the interview is that it's set-up to be a series of gotcha moments that will fit in a set amount of time instead of a serious attempt to understand Jon Stewart and his place in the world or educate the audience about that subject. The way Wallace kept pushing and pushing the clips over Stewart's attempts at answering felt like it was a live talk show like The Tonight Show, and there was only a specific amount of time to put in all the clips and conversational points, and those points HAD to get hit or the producers would be mad.

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Brad
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June 21, 2011 at 10:23 PM delete

"But please, watch the entire interview, not some of the three-minute yelling clips circulating on Youtube."

But, I haven't had a chance to watch the Nick Cage clip yet...

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Alison
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June 22, 2011 at 10:44 AM delete

Thoughtful comments from all! But Brad wins the internet.

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Anonymous
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June 22, 2011 at 10:52 AM delete

I'm trying not to be jaded, but I truly worry that what you are asking for---by way of an honest, thoughtful, informed discussion between Stewart and anyone on FOX---is just a fanciful pipe dream from someone in the educated minority of this country.

I would point you to Stewart's lengthy interview with Rachel Maddow some months ago. Maddow was a little miffed by some of Stewart's characterizations of MSNBC during his Rally for Sanity, and the two of them had an in depth discussion about the role of news in this age, etc. In said interview, Stewart is deeply personal and honest about his role. I think that that interview might answer some of your questions, though it surely will not speak to what the right at Fox think of themselves and their own role. On that note, and as Stewart pointed out the following day, the most honest comment, that really belied FOX's and Wallace's position, came when Wallace said that FOX is the "other" side, or that it gives the "other" perspective---something like that. By deductive logic, if Wallace posits that MSNBC is on the left, and that Fox is the other side, then it must mean that FOX is on the right.

Love,
Scott

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Matt!
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June 22, 2011 at 10:59 AM delete

Jon Stewart shouldn't do interviews with these people. It would be like Jerry Seinfeld meeting with airplane food at Camp David.

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Anonymous
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June 23, 2011 at 8:14 PM delete

I disagree - Stewart came off intelligent and insightful. Chris Wallace is an embarassment to journalism.

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Alison
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June 23, 2011 at 8:19 PM delete

Matt! - laughed out loud.

And second Anonymous - I don't think what I said was at odds with Stewart being intelligent and insightful - he's both of those things, and I hope I conveyed as much in the piece. In fact, that was kind of the point of my piece, right?

Unless what you disagree with is what Matt! said. In which case, nope, Matt! wins.

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