Is Jon Stewart the most influential liberal in America media?
This has been a popular claim for a while, since Stewart clearly has more political influence than most politicos. In fact, many of his most famous moments turned on his ability to stop joking and get serious. Like when he destroyed CNN’s Crossfire, scolding Tucker Carlson for hurting America, or when he led that large, un-ironic campaign rally last year to answer Glenn Beck and, by extension, the Tea Party. Reporter Tom Junod proposes, in a provocative new 7,500-word Esquire article, that these somber forays into reality-based discourse have established Stewart as “the one indispensable figure of the cultural and political Left.” But with great power, comes great disappointment.
Stewart”s thirst for political relevance has led to a fundamentally disingenuous identity, Junod argues; and worse, it has begun to curdle his act.
Junod tees up the identity problem by reporting on a warm-up session with the the Daily Show audience, where Stewart flatly denies his impact on the political scene. “But you killed Crossfire!” yells a fan, and Stewart is ready with his rebuttal: “No, I didn’t. Crossfire was already dead.” That’s not exactly the point, though, and if you find this kind of shtick vexing—like politicians deploring “politics”—that is because, Junod argues, it actually undercuts Stewart’s core legitimacy:
…there it is again, that denial of power upon which his power depends. It’s strange, isn’t it: One of the fastest and most instinctive wits in America feeling it necessary to go on explaining himself again and again; a man who lives to clarify resorting to loophole; the irrepressible truth-teller insisting on something that not one person of the two hundred watching his show in the studio—never mind the millions who will watch on television—can possibly believe.
A similar tension emerged during Stewart’s (serious) closing speech at the Rally to Restore Sanity, Junod proposes, because American’s most famous liberal felt the need to pretend that his huge, pre-election bonanza actually had no preference in the election: