Nation readers don’t need to be told that what passes for TV punditry is far more degrading than uplifting for the national conversation.
With talking heads ranting at each other in soundbite form, it’s difficult for even the most dignified, articulate analyst to avoid being caught up in the calculated theater of debate shows like MSNBC’s Hardball, CNN’s Crossfire and Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes. To steal a good line from the man I’m about to praise, TV debate shows are as much about real debate as the World Wrestling Federation is about real athletic competition.
Jon Stewart dropped that line, among many other spot-on remarks, in an amazing confrontation with Crossfire hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala this past Friday on the CNN program. Invited on to plug his (hilarious) new book, Stewart instead took the opportunity to publicly confront his hosts about why he thinks Crossfire‘s programming and the mainstream media in general are “hurting America.” (He also told Carlson and Begala: “You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.”)
The result: perhaps the most direct, frank and truthful comments on the real role the media plays in shaping debate ever uttered on a major television news program. And, thanks to the internet, this remarkable moment in live TV, which clearly thrilled the in-studio audience, can live on well beyond the hundreds of thousands of people who saw it air last Friday.