The world is indeed topsy-turvy when the entertainment realm's "fake news" trumps the supposed real item. And nowhere was that more evident of late than on a recent Daily Show with Jon Stewart where he pressed onetime straight talker turned GOP party-line-POW John McCain to get real about Iraq and the language around the debate on the war.
Stewart's pointed pursuit of the Republican contender -- nicely combining the doggedness too much of the mainstream media political press corps lacks with his comedic geniality -- followed the release of a Pew Research Center study the week before identifying the most knowledgeable Americans when it comes to public affairs. Topping the list in a near dead heat were those who regularly watch Stewart and The Colbert Report and readers of major newspaper websites.
Hey Grey Old Lady and WashPo! You've met your match and it's two comedians, something you should not find funny at all.
"Tonight we go mano y somewhat less of a mano," Stewart greeted McCain on April 24. The talk started jokingly -- Stewart asking whether they should talk about "Bomb Iran" (as McCain scarily sang to the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann") or the walk through the Baghdad market -- and like a good news gent, he let McCain have his say.
But then he engaged the senator with an informed fervency that it would have been nice to see in the press corps during the propaganda campaign leading up to the war in Iraq. And what Stewart honed in on was continuing propaganda slurs from Republicans aimed those who wish to end that senseless war as soon as is feasibly possible.
He asked McCain whether the debate in exiting from Iraq shouldn't be framed in terms like "win" or "lose" but rather "set more in to a descriptive success: metrics, deadlines if you will, timetables."
"If you prefer to set a date for surrender," McCain carped.
"That is so unfair," Stewart interjected. Again, he let McCain make his points, but then noted: "We're not surrendering to an enemy that has defeated us. We're saying: how do you quell a civil war when it's not your country?" The audience applauded.
"I think we know whose side they're on," McCain sneared.
Stewart: "They're on America's side because they are patriots."
Following a commercial break, Stewart then challenged McCain on Republican talking points that imply that wishing to end America's misadventure in Iraq is disloyal and encourages terrorism, such as: If we don't fight them there we will have to fight them here.
"They're trying to follow us home whether we are in Iraq or not," Stewart pointed out. Duh! That's the very nature of terrorism.
Stewart then sliced at the way the GOP framing strategy casts any opposition to Bush's failed leadership of the war as the sin of not supporting the troops. "They say that asking for a timetable or criticizing the president is not supporting the troops. Explain to me why that is supporting the troops less than extending their tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months, putting in stop loss, and not having Walter Reed be up to snuff. How can the president justify that?"
In not exactly reply, McCain took up the tired old saw about how the troops he speaks to support the president and the mission. Stewart pointed out how that is standard military dutiful practice. "What I believe is less supportive of the good people that believe they are fighting a good cause is to not give them a strategy that makes their success possible."
"We now have a strategy," McCain piped up in his current defense of the surge.
"Add 10,000 to quell Baghdad?" Stewart asked. "Add 350,000 and you might have a shot."
As Stewart pointed out of the tactics that equate opposition to the war with not supporting our troops, "That's not fair to put on people who criticize. ... This is not about our troops."
The comic who hosts a "fake news" show displayed more moxie than most talk show interviewers by engaging McCain in spirited debate that seemed to leave the presidential aspirant a bit streamed. Stewart then invited McCain back -- he's likely been the show's most frequent guest, Stewart guesses -- but one wonders if the candidate's handlers will let that happen after this appearance.
The interview was in stark contrast to a Charlie Rose talk the week before with Tom DeLay where the host, a supposed journalist, softballed the former congressional leader as he characterized his Texas legal troubles as "the criminalization of politics" (isn't that committing criminal acts in the pursuit of political power, as DeLay appears to have done?). And then he let DeLay, in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, state that arming students and staff would make schools safer. "That's a fact," DeLay insisted. Uh, Charlie? How about maybe asking a simple "Says who?" Didn't happen.
Since politics has become entertainment, maybe it is up to comedians to save genuinely spirited discourse and quite possibly the nation. Laughter isn't just the best medicine, but also a sharp weapon that slices with a spoonful of sugar that makes sometimes seemingly unpalatable logic easier to digest. And with Al Franken aiming at the Senate, maybe now is the time for all good comics to come to the aid of our country.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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