While the news media (excluding my employer, which offers a wonderfully nuanced exploration of public life and terrific benefits) seem content to drag us along toward partisan oblivion, Jon Stewart is proudly doing what journalists should be doing to those who would turn politics into bloodsport. He’s calling bullshit.
We all remember when he did it to Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on Crossfire, though that incident was often misinterpreted as a partisan act in itself. It wasn’t. Stewart’s point was that staking out two “sides” and yelling at each other is simply destructive.
Last week, Stewart did it again, this time to Chris Matthews. The Hardball host came onto Stewart’s show hawking his book, Life’s a Campaign.
Matthews does some worthwhile work with Catholic Charities, but as you can guess from his show and the title of that book, he’s one of those Beltway-insider journalists who sees beauty in the “game” of politics.
Stewart’s basic point: That’s a sad way to live. It’s bad enough that our political system operates that way. Must we operate that way in real life is well? “I’m not trashing your book — I’m trashing your philosophy of life.”
From a quick blog sample, it looks like some people got it and some didn’t.
– At MSNBC (scroll to 8:48), one guy is furious with Stewart for “turning on an ally.” What’s the emoticon for shaking my head and sighing?
– At the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, we see one commenter who thinks the whole thing just proves how rude “liberals” are. This is beautifully refuted by the next guy, who doesn’t even go for the obvious point that Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity and company aren’t exactly models of polite discourse.
– My favorite comment refers to Stewart’s point that Matthews’ book has already been written … by Machiavelli: “Umm, Chris? The Prince is a cautionary tale, not a how-to manual.”
Stewart is neatly subverting the left-right conflict that feeds the 24-hour “news” monster. It’s a message that ought to be bigger.
My suggestion: In every Web conversation that ends up as a predictable partisan shoutfest, toss in a link to this video. Ask the brainwashed drones in the discussion if they’d rather be Stewart or Matthews.
Couldn’t hurt, right?