On Friday, a year and six days after his now-legendary appearance on CNN’s now-defunct debate program, “Crossfire,” Jon Stewart will mark his return to GW with two appearances during parents and alumni weekend.
Last year, on Oct. 15, Jon Stewart traveled to Washington for a special appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire,” which he was fond of criticizing on “The Daily Show” with segments such as “great moments in punditry . as read by children” and constantly referring to “Crossfire” co-host Bob Novak as a “douchebag.”
From the beginning it was clear that Stewart hadn’t come solely to crack wise, as his second comment about “Crossfire” was, “And I wanted to – I felt that that wasn’t fair and I should come here and tell you that . it’s not so much that it’s bad, as it’s hurting America.”
Looking back, what’s amazing is how clearly the hosts can’t comprehend that Stewart had actually come to express his concerns about “Crossfire.” The show’s hosts, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, struggled to justify the show’s existence as they were being confronted by a stand-up comedian.
It was best captured in the moment when an incredulous Carlson asks, “Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.” To which Stewart replies, “No. No. I’m not going to be your monkey.”
“Crossfire” was always a show about sticking to your expected roles. Left, right; liberal, conservative; Democrat, Republican; the point was to stick to your talking points, yell whenever you could, and get the campaign’s message of the day out. Stewart’s refusal to stick to his expected role threw the hosts, particularly Carlson, through a loop and led to the most memorable exchange from the encounter:
Carlson: “I do think you’re more fun on your show. Just my opinion.”
Stewart: “You know what’s interesting, though? You’re as big a dick on your show as you are on any show.”
A few months later “Crossfire” was canceled, and CNN president Jonathan Klein was quoted in The New York Times saying, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise.” I can only assume he was speaking of Stewart’s opinion about “Crossfire” and not Tucker Carlson.
I think the most important point that Jon Stewart was trying to make got lost in the hype surrounding the clash. He wasn’t saying that it was only “Crossfire” that was hurting America, he was just pointing it out as symptomatic of the larger problem plaguing the country today. I think his main issue with politicians and the media is that they don’t accord their audiences the same respect as his fake news show manages to. As he told the British paper The Guardian earlier this month, “Ultimately, people would respond a lot better to being treated like adults … if politics wasn’t treated like marketing.”
In the wake of the 2004 election, Stewart appears to be the one who has emerged with the most credibility. How else could you explain the Election Night ratings that showed “The Daily Show” nearly equaling the audience of Fox News? Or the Republican National Committee’s new Web attack that features Stewart mocking Democrats, which is ironic as it comes from a show that regularly provides far more scathing criticism of the Republicans. I have to wonder if Jon Stewart ever shakes his head and marvels at how the anchor of a fake news show became more trusted than the media and politicians he mocks, and if anyone else sees the tragic comedy in that.
So this week, when he returns to GW and a campus that sometimes seems more partisan and divided then any episode of “Crossfire,” I wonder if he’ll take a moment to speak his mind and share his perspective on the America he seems to view with increased frustration.
I hope GW’s students and parents don’t make the same mistake with Jon Stewart that Tucker Carlson did. Don’t expect him to just be funny. Then we’d be no better than “Crossfire.”
-The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.