Blogs > Cliopatria > Must-See TV

Oct 16, 2004 5:34 pm

Must-See TV

Everyone needs to see this clip of Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire. (Perhaps everyone already has.)

As many others have noted already, the interesting thing here is the obvious discomfort of Carlson and Begala, which I think goes beyond the normal social discomfort of having a popular, smart person tell you that something you're doing is stupid. What Stewart says is obvious--it's practically the marketing campaign that CNN uses for Crossfire. But somehow saying so in the way Stewart does--it's like a mobster breaking the code of omerta or something. Carlson comes off especially badly--Begala at least has the sense to just kind of shut up and let it all happen.

To be honest, some of what Stewart says is how I feel about blogging on my bad days, that here's this marvelous medium where everyone can publish interesting thoughts at no cost, and what do so many do instead? Serve as a partisan echo-chamber, parroting whatever the talking points of the day are from campaigns and political parties--which are talking points crafted to appeal to what each party thinks particular audiences want to hear. There's something painful in it all: audiences who already know what they think straining to hear their thoughts regurgitated back to them by spin masters so that the audience itself can then respew the spew right back out again.

I know, and I think Stewart does too, that there's some kind of middle ground between the hackery of Crossfire and some kind of turgid safe-for-PBS borefest with polite intellectuals modestly disagreeing. It would take finding the few honest political commentators out there, the people who might actually say something that contradicts the authorized party line or refuse to rise to the proferred bait.

On the other hand, the historian in me wonders,"When was it ever thus?" It's not like the circumstances that Stewart is complaining about are new. It's easy to rhapsodize about the Golden Age of public intellectuals, but only if you wear some rosy-colored glasses. Dirty tricks are not the invention of Karl Rove or the Nixon White House:"Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" comes from the 19th Century. The traditions that we criticize today are old, though sometimes in new forms. The stakes may be higher today than they ever were, the mass media more resplendent in its unused potential, but if we want substance, then we're really talking about creating a new dispensation than restoring one gone to seed.

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Maarja Krusten - 10/17/2004

Aha, that is useful to know. Trolls, eh? Well, I post all over the place so I guess I'm not always a troll. Sometimes I may be regarded as such.

When I try to post red flags about records and archives--subjects most writers and readers here have little knowledge of--I suppose I can be called a troll. I do wish John Early Haynes would post an article here on the topic, along the lines of his post described in

And the demoralization of the federal work force after decades of political attack and "running against the bureaucrats in Washington?" Doesn't seem to have much resonance for most HNNers, maybe those posts sound troll-like on my part, too. I'll have to keep your blog conventions and perceptions in mind in future, LOL. Thanks for the courtesy of your reply.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/17/2004

Astroturf is something which looks 'grassroots' but is in fact started and sustained deliberately by the usual suspects (i.e. lobbying groups, party flacks).

A troll, in internet terms, is someone who posts deliberately inflammatory material in hopes of inciting a dead-end argument and shifting the discussion away from whatever the previous topic was; trolls usually have one or two topics on which they prefer to post.

Maarja Krusten - 10/17/2004

Indulge me please, what do the terms "astroturf" and "trolls" mean in this context? I don't know all the jargon yet, obviously.

As far as debating with people, check out my post on the Annenberg poll and Bill Heuisler's comments in reply, to which I replied at length, in different segments, this a.m. Note his tranferred anger at CNN, and somewhat at me, whereas the poll in question was by Annenberg. Mr. Heuisler and and I never will see eye to eye, I suspect. The link is Please be sure to also look at the drill down link at which I mention in one of the replies. It includes comments from Richard Rongstad, another Vietnam vet who posts on HNN. He and the female officer who is the last poster at that site have widely diverging views, interesting to see the substance conveyed and tone used by both.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/17/2004

The problem with the 'talking points' is that, if they are any good as propoganda, they must be based on facts and those facts deserve some attention. Not as much as we give them, but it's still going to take some effort to work through the ever popular 'facts which confirm my biases' to get to the 'inconviently complicating factors' without falling into a 'my facts/your facts" talking point duel.

In fact, the blogosphere, as several people have pointed out recently, because of the way it allows multiple people to process different parts of a problem before reintegrating it into some kind of new understanding, is a pretty good anti-talking-points environment, if there's enough exchange going on and the astroturf and trolls can be kept to a minimum.

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2004

Agreed. I was responding to the point about mainstream media (by which I take it he meant Meet the Press, etc.) not about Stewart. Carlson would have done better to laugh at Stewart and say, hey, you're right, this is theater here. Carlson sounded awfully defensive, never a good posture. Whining about having thought Stewart would be funny didn't help, either. He seemed awfully off balance, guess it was not one of Tucker Carlson's better days. Begala didn't do that well, either. Don't know what they were thinking. Check out Stewart's debate with Ted Koppel in the October 17-23 issue of TV Guide on sale now (the mag has TWO articles on Stewart). Stewart sez more shows should be like Nightline, that is they should be "thoughtful." He must not think Crossfire is thoughtful and I tend to agree, I no longer watch the shoutfests there. Stewart adds that "there should be a filter, but that filter should be truth." Interesting.

Timothy James Burke - 10/16/2004

I thought Stewart was devastatingly clear on why Carlson's objection is profoundly stupid. Stewart isn't "playing nice" in order to keep guests willing to come on his show again--it's not his function to ask "tough questions". Looking to a show which is expressly devoted to comedy and satire--and not so much satire of politics as satire of television news programs--to somehow serve the function of being a hard-hitting investigative news program is simply a sign of how pathetically low our expectations of television journalism have become.

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2004

Good point about the softball questions although Stewart hardly is mainstream media. I agree with you about echo chamber venues, few people these days turn to media outlets that challenge their beliefs.

The debate questions were ok but there wasn't enough follow up, in my view. David Brooks does a nice job of satirizing the debates in today's NYT, see

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2004

Well, some of you have the opportunity, some, like me, are somewhat muzzled, darn. By all means, call people on spin when you see it. And challenge 'em in their echo chambers. I've noticed that a fair number of HNN posters post talking point type messages and avoid answering the types of questions I ask 'en. For example, last month I debated some of the Vietnam vets. I cited what we now know of LBJ's and McNamara's privately held misgivings, and mentioned Daniel Ellsberg's memoirs. I posed the question, "did those of us who supported the government serve you well or serve you ill by supporting Nixon's and LJB's policies in Vietnam?" Not a single vet responded directly to that one, all I got was some "the troops support Bush" responses. Well, within the confines of my Fed constraints, I did try.

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2004

Thanks, I already had gone to which listed several different links for viewing the Stewart clip. I got in through the iFilm one at;htv=12
which probably is the one you just posted.

Loved the clip, especially Tucker Carlson's reactions. Thanks so much for the heads up, it was great to see Stewart say what he did.

Lloyd Kilford - 10/16/2004

I think that one problem the mainstream media has is that they want to get more than one interview out of a politician; so they have to be nice enough so that the politician comes back. Stewart played softball enough with Kerry to ensure that repeat appearance.

Also, the hardened cynic in me doubts that people *want* honest political commentary. They want (IMHO) commentary that they agree with.

Timothy Burke - 10/16/2004

I've fixed the link (I think) to a working clip from iFilm.

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2004

Also worth reading the Rolling Stone feature on Stewart at

Ralph E. Luker - 10/16/2004

Try You can at least get a transcript of it there.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/16/2004

I think I can agree with all that you've said here. My reaction is that we have the opportunity to play Jon Stewart here any time, any day, and in a real sense I'd like to think that we ought to take up that responsibility with each other by calling each other on nonsense and spin, wherever we find it.

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2004

When I tried the link, I got a message saying "you don't have permission to view this link." Is it from a site for which you are a subscriber and we cannot view if we are not? Is is from CNN, which does not allow nonsubscriber access to web video feeds? I would love to see the clip, I am a huge fan of Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, which I enjoy more than anything else I watch these days.