Has Stewart gone soft?
Comedian interviews president–credentials revoked?
After Jon Stewart’s interview of Barack Obama on last night’s Daily Show (the comedian’s first of a sitting president), New York Times blogger Alessandra Stanley asks, “whether a political satirist loses credibility when hobnobbing with a sitting president.”
One of Stewart’s hallmarks is ability, even zeal, to skewer journalists who not only amuse in their incompetence, but enrage in what Stewart often intimates is a total violation of their own standards. Or, as our own Jake Bronsther put it yesterday in a special on Jon
Stewart to AskMen.com:
This media criticism is built into the structure of Stewart’s show, which was set up as a satirical take on programs like The O’Reilly Factor. As a result, Stewart sits above the rest of the commentators, somehow more pure, the grinning mandarin who points out our individual and collective misdeeds. It also helps that he might be the smartest person sitting behind a television news desk today, of either the real or fake variety.
Given the niche Stewart has so effectively carved out as incisive media critic and arbiter, the question is not merely whether interviewing President Obama erodes Stewart’s self-styled image.
It’s also one of whether he’s violating the expectations he has set for himself. Has Stewart abandoned a self-imposed obligation to be the Critic-in-Chief of American political culture?
We often raise more questions than we answer here at TPP, but the answer to this one is almost certainly no. Stewart’s interview of Obama hardly makes him an establishment flunky. The decision to put the president on the show likely had more to do with the White House’s own goals in the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections and is a testament to Stewart’s evident popularity with a younger demographic.
And Stewart was polite, but hardly pliant. He pressed the President on his agenda in several instances and stood up clearly for the liberal base of the Democratic Party he has come to represent (even if he takes shots at them, too, sometimes).
The truth is that Stewart has no more obligation to be objective or aloof than any other comedian. His impartiality has only been a willingness to turn his acerbic wit on liberals with enough frequency to seem above the fray.
But he’s not above the fray. He’s clearly a Democrat, quite liberal, but happy to give all sides a chance to be mocked.
Last night, he applied that approach with the President of the United States, and showed the decorum such an occasion requires. Perhaps the jarring contrast for us viewers is that Stewart is usually not a very respectful person — at least in a shallow kind of way. But don’t mistake manners for meekness.
Stewart the critic will never live up to the growing legend. But Stewart the comedian is doing just fine.