August 16, 2009

SAVING HIM FROM HIMSELF:

Why Neoconservative Pundits Love Jon Stewart (Jacob Gershman, 8/09/09, New York)

"There is genuine intellectual curiosity," [Cliff] May told New York. "He's a staunch liberal, but he's a thoughtful liberal, and I respect that." May isn't the only conservative gushing about Stewart. While the movement professes a disdain for the "liberal media elite," it has made an exception for the true-blue 46-year-old comedian. "He always gives you a chance to answer, which some people don't do," says John Bolton, President Bush's ambassador to the United Nations and a Fox News contributor, who went on the show last month. "He's got his perspective, but he's been fair." Says Bolton: "In general, a lot of the media, especially on the left, has lost interest in debate and analysis. It has been much more ad hominem. Stewart fundamentally wants to talk about the issues. That's what I want to do."

What's more, Stewart seems to like hosting conservatives (Comedy Central did not reply to requests for comment). In recent weeks, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Kristol have stopped by. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, Stewart has interviewed more conservative pundits than liberal ones. (Remember when fans fretted he'd have trouble finding ways to be funny under the new president?) It may be because it's simply easier to tangle with an ideological adversary than to needle a compatriot. A clash of ideas is always more entertaining than an echo chamber. And, for a liberal wit like Stewart, it's easier to stake out a clear position when facing off against a direct opponent. When he's interviewing a liberal politician or pundit, he comes from a weaker position. His offensive instincts are blurred — notwithstanding his on-air indictment of Jim Cramer — and occasionally he fawns.

Take his interview last month with House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank. "It seems like it's disappeared," Stewart said of the stimulus money. Frank dodged the attack by insisting that Democrats had made the economic crisis "less bad than it used to be." Stewart toggled to another point, that Democrats had revised the recovery timetable. Frank claimed his intervention prevented a deeper hole. Frank wasn't really answering the questions. The conversation felt unsatisfying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2009 6:50 AM
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