On last night's Daily Show, host Jon Stewart began by admitting that he wasn't sure that the evening's show was going to be a particularly good one. "I would love to say that we've got a great show for you tonight," he said, "I'm not sure that's the case."
STEWART: It's hard to know what to say. The events this weekend in Arizona weigh heavily. Sadly, it is a feeling that this country has experienced all too often and unfortunately for our show, the closer that we have gotten towards discussing and dealing with current events the harder it becomes in situations where reality is truly sad.
And after a minor bit of japery with correspondent John Oliver, Stewart began an unpolished monologue about this past weekend's tragic events. While it clearly didn't occupy the momentous emotional real estate that 9/11 did, Stewart's response was, in many ways, parallel. It was raw in its delivery, spontaneous in its reflections, and insistent on identifying the reasons why one shouldn't be brought to a state of despair.
STEWART: So here we are again, stunned by a tragedy. We've been visited by this demon before. Our hearts go out to those injured or killed and their loved ones. How do you make sense of these types of senseless situations is really the question that seems to be on everybody's mind. I don't know that there's a way to make sense of this sort of thing. As I watched the political pundit world, many are reflecting and grieving and trying to figure things out. But it's definitely true that others are working feverishly to find the tidbit or two that will exonerate their side from blame or implicate the other. Watching that is as predictable, I think, as it is dispiriting. Did the toxic political environment cause this? A graphic image here, an ill-timed comment, violent rhetoric, those types of things. I have no fucking idea.
Despite the fact that Stewart had previously held out Washington politicians and the media that lavishes attention upon them as chief drivers of society's ills, he mostly pulled his punches tonight, saying, "I wouldn't blame our political rhetoric any more than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine...and that is coming from somebody who truly hates our political environment."
"It is toxic," Stewart averred. "It is unproductive. But to say that that is what has caused this or that the people in that are responsible for this...I don't think you could do it...you cannot outsmart crazy. You don't know what a troubled mind will get caught on."
Nevertheless, Stewart said:
I do think it's important to watch our rhetoric. I think it's a worthwhile goal not to conflate our political opponents with enemies if for no other reason than to draw a better distinction between the manifestos of paranoid madmen and what passes for acceptable political and pundit speak. It would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn't in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on teevee.
Stewart attempted to turn his attention to something more hopeful:
I refuse to give in to that feeling of despair. There's light in this situation. I urge everyone: Read up about those who were hurt and or killed in this shooting. You will be comforted by just how much anonymous goodness there really is in the world. You read about these people and you realize that people that you don't even know, that you have never met, are leading lives of real dignity and goodness. And you hear about crazy, but it's rarer than you think. I think you'll find yourself even more impressed with Congresswoman Giffords and amazed about how much living the deceased packed into lives cut way too short. And if there is real solace in this, I think it's that for all the hyperbole and the vitriol that's become a part of our political process, when the reality of that rhetoric, when actions match the disturbing nature of words we haven't lost our capacity to be horrified. Please let us hope we never do. Let us hope we never become numb to what real horror, what the real blood of patriots looks like when it's spilled.
Stewart closed by promising a return to a "cathartic" comedy tomorrow, and apologized to his audience: "Thank you for listening. I know it is probably more helpful for me than it is for you."
By contrast, Stephen Colbert addressed the tragedy in a manner that was more succinct, more polished, and more pointed in its criticism:
Before we start, I'd just like to say that all of us are shocked and saddened by the senseless attack in Tucson this weekend, which killed six people and wounded fourteen others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. While I've never met Representative Giffords, we have tussled in the media, and her husband Mark is the astronaut that taught me how to land the Space Shuttle. To the Congresswoman, her husband, and the families and friends of all the victims of this horrible attack, we at the Report send our thoughts and prayers. We may never know what motivated this clearly unbalanced individual, but what we do know is that now is not the time to lay blame or politicize this tragedy.
What followed was a montage of people in the media laying blame and politicizing the tragedy, after which Colbert remarked: "Oh. I guess I'm wrong. Did we pick someone to blame yet? Well get on it, I look like an idiot out here."