London Calling : Enough Jon Stewart/John McCain Comments Already -- An Explanation

I'm writing a post script on Jon Stewart's ongoing relationship with Senator John McCain because the first piece I wrote provoked such a strong reaction.

I've written five pieces for the Huffington Post and the most comments any of them had drawn was just over one hundred. This last article has attracted 285 comments and counting.

Apparently, I've struck a nerve.

First, let me deal with those (relatively few) of you who called what I wrote an "attack piece".

Remember how I started the article?

Where I said "I'm a fan of Jon Stewart... The Daily Show is a welcome breath of tart air...(that) struck a collective chord amongst Americans... Stewart's contribution to the Iraq debate...desperately needed to be heard...should not be underestimated...his skill as an interviewer is something to behold... at times, it is pure genius...(Stewart) provided a public service when he went on Crossfire...blowing that broadcast and Tucker Carlson right off CNN's airwaves."

And, yes, all that positive stuff was followed by a "but", but it was there.

Many of the comments you posted agreed with my argument, so I'm not the only one who thinks John McCain has been on the show far too often (eleven times, more than any other guest).

And many of you were vitriolic about McCain, far worse than what I wrote about him, but that's typical of the kind of language in the space.

Overall, three main themes emerged from your arguments.

1/ Relax - it's a comedy show!

2/ You're wrong - Stewart doesn't always give McCain a free pass, sometimes he can be tough on him.

3/ And there was the issue of whether it is appropriate that The Daily Show continues to feature interviews with war supporters, be they politicians like John McCain, or hawkish pundits, like Bill Kristol.

Dealing with them in reverse order:

Despite what many of you wrongly inferred, I have no quarrel with Stewart interviewing people of that ilk on his show. Let me refer you back to the piece:

"I get that Stewart likes to have people on his program who see things differently to the way he does. He is already broadcasting to the converted; he shouldn't always be interviewing them. He understands, too, that the conflict of ideas and ideologies makes for good TV."

Are we clear on that? As for those of you who believe there is no place for the pro-war argument on The Daily Show, I happen to disagree. But let's leave it there.

On the second point; that Stewart has been tough on McCain in the past, so it's OK to lob some softballs his way now and again.

I am aware of previous encounters that have been more confrontational than the happy-talk interview from the campaign bus, which is why I have never complained about the relationship before.

This is how I see it: much of journalism (and, yes, I consider what Stewart does to be a form of journalism, more on that later) comes down to context. And the problem I had with the happy-talk, campaign bus interview was the context.

It took place immediately after the Petraeus Show in Washington, in which John McCain played a shameful, supporting role.

He went on Meet The Press and mischaracterized (or lied about) what the general said. He mischaracterized (or lied about) what others had said about the general's testimony. Senator McCain even misquoted (or lied about) what he himself had said to the general in the Senate committee.

This was a candidate for president, lying repeatedly in order to prolong an illegal war that has already claimed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of innocent lives.

Then he went on the road and said that MoveOn should be thrown out of the country for running that ad in the New York Times.

That was the context in which Jon Stewart and John McCain did their little happy-talk number from the bus.

And that was my point: this was no time to play softball with a warmonger. The stakes are just too high.

Finally, on the "Relax - it's a comedy show!" argument.

I'm sorry, but I don't consider The Daily Show to be just a comedy show. And not because I lack a sense of humor.

I don't doubt that back when Jon Stewart took the job, a comedy show was what he had in mind.

But, as the song says, a lot of things changed after 9/11. The first time Stewart went on the air after the attacks, he wasn't at all funny. He was deadly serious and emotional, because it was no time to be cracking jokes.

And, in the years since, we've been tuning in to The Daily Show in huge numbers, and not just for laughs.

Political satire is only funny when it contains an element of truth. Truth is what mainstream US media have been lacking, post 9/11. And truth, couched in humor, was what Jon Stewart had to offer.

We watch The Daily Show because we have come to rely on Stewart to ask the kinds of questions that mainstream media have failed to ask, because they've been afraid of the political or commercial repercussions.

Does anyone out there think that, if this was just a comedy show, Fox News would have felt the need to respond to it, with that awful Half Hour News Hour (R.I.P.)?

That was a strategic, political response from Fox, in order to blunt the impact that Jon Stewart was having in the debate on the war, particular among young Americans.

In a way, I feel sorry for the guy. Jon Stewart is a comic, who through circumstance, and a rare combination of talent, insight, conscience and courage has become an important voice at a time when too many Americans have remained silent.

There are probably occasions when he scratches his head and wonders how it happened; that a guy who plays it for laughs has come to be relied upon by so many people.

But he's plenty smart enough to understand why we hold him to the standards he has set for himself.

It comes with the territory.

Yes, Jon Stewart is an accidental journalist. But he is one of the biggest dogs we have in this fight. And we need him to be on his game.

Even, in fact, especially, when he's got John McCain on the show.