When Bill Moyers returned to PBS two weeks ago, his first program took a careful look at how the mainstream media has fallen down on the job when it comes to asking tough questions to politicians. Given this starting point, it seemed logical for Moyers to speak next (iTunes — Feed) with John Stewart, host of The Daily Show. That’s because adversarial journalism is now found more readily on Comedy Central than on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, etc. The interview with Stewart, which is quite substantive and worth a listen, makes reference to John McCain’s recent appearance on The Daily Show and also to Steven Colbert’s famous/infamous roast of President Bush in 2006. You can watch both below.
American television shows have been satirizing politicians for a long time. That’s not new. But what’s new with Stewart is that he’s upending the whole point of television satire. Whether you look at Jay Leno’s tame humor, or the more biting humor of Saturday Night Live, the point of the satire has always been to get a laugh. For Stewart, something else is going on. Watch the McCain interview and you see that the joke is essentially a prop, a convenient means of getting at something much more serious, a way of having a blunt, no nonsense conversation, precisely the kind of conversation that the mainstream media has been largely unwilling, if not downright afraid, to have with our leaders.