Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Jon Stewart Drops the Ball

Jon Stewart is one of my favourite men on television. He’s very smart, he’s incredibly funny and he’s very relevant. He’s turned the Daily Show from a smarmy-celebrity-mocking show hosted by Craig Kilborn into one of the must-watch shows on television. Stewart has accomplished the near unthinkable in turning a comedy program into one of the most informative news shows on television.

His coverage of the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election was more informative than that of any other major US network, as he would often show us in two clips what their entire afternoon of programming had consisted of, and his team would often shed incredible light on the real issues through their comedic pieces. Furthermore, Stewart accomplishes the near-impossible in having consistently good interviews, whether they are lighter pieces with celebrities or heavier ones with academics and politicians.

However, if there’s one noticeable weakness to Jon Stewart, it’s that he tends to drop the ball when the pressure is on. He had Colin Powell on his program and gave him a pass on the weapons of mass destruction controversy and his interview with John Kerry was met with widespread, and deserved, criticism.

Last night Jon Stewart had Rick Santorum on the program, and in my mind Stewart let Santorum walk right over him. Santorum is a legislative extremist, a demagogue and a raging homophobe. He’s one of my least favourite politicians in the US, and stands for an incredible amount of things I disagree with. He was on the show promoting his book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and Common Good.

Stewart, who likes to point and ridicule talking points to no end, and I love him for that, has rarely seemed so unable to rebut an interviewee’s talking points. Santorum is exactly the sort-of person that Stewart usually rips into in an interview, but last night he was instead genially agreeing to disagree with the man.

Stewart: Can you confuse virtue with heterosexuality? Because I live in New York City. I'm literally - we're in a sea of homosexuality here. (Santorum giggles) It is - and also evangelism and Jewish and Muslim — it's New York. There's 8 million people. You've got more of everything. My experience has been virtue is unrelated to sexuality. APPLAUSE. And by the way on the other side of that...unrelated to religion. I think that's why the argument and concern in that vein is so confusing.

Santorum: I would say that certainly people who are homosexuals can be virtuous and very often are. The problem is that when you talk about the institution of marriage as the foundation and building block of society which I say the family is, and the marriage is the glue that holds the family together. We need to do things to make sure that that institution stays stable for the benefit of children.

Stewart: Children are best raised in male/female is what you're...

Santorum: Yeah, one man one woman.

Stewart: One man, one woman, good job...

Santorum: Absolutely...I mean I talked about all those aspects of society...

Stewart: But if you don't have the ideal? Cause you know they say you go to war with the army that you have...

Santorum: But government should be for the ideal that doesn't mean that a single mom can't and in most cases will raise great children. That [doesn't] mean that other forms can't and won't raise good children. What government should be for is what's best because a lot's at stake - the future of our country. And so we should have a system that builds around what's best, and that's the traditional, what I call natural family. It's not to say that other people are bad.

Stewart: Isn't even the natural family evolving? All the way up until the 60's and 70's there were those head of household laws that a family could decide to move but it was basically the man who had final say, you know, and before that marriage was more a property arrangement. You know, love marriage only came in the 1700's and moved on from there. Is it possible that, through an examination or as we go along, or is this just a basic difference of opinion about what the nature of sexuality is and what the nature of virtue is?

Santorum: No I think it's the nature of what's best for society. From four thousand years of history we've decided and determined that marriage was so important, having a mother and father who had children who were together for the purpose of children. Remember, the reason societies elevate marriage to a special status is not because they want to affirm the relationship between two adults. That's important. A love relationship is important.

Stewart: But isn't that more a religious paradigm than..

Santorum: No, no. Again, what's society's purpose in marriage? Society's purpose - the reasons civilizations have held up marriage is because they want to establish and support and secure the relationship that is in the best interest of the future of the society, which is, a man and a woman having children and providing the stability for those children to be raised in the future.

Stewart: Wouldn't you say though and with that same thing and I completely agree, although I always thought the purpose of marriage was a bachelor party but that's beside the point. (laughter) But wouldn't you say that society has an interest in understanding that the homosexual community also wants to form those same bonds and raise children and wouldn't a monogamous, good-hearted, virtuous homosexual couple be in society's best interest raising a child rather than a heterosexual couple with adultery, with alcohol issues, with other things, and by the way, I don't even need to make that sound as though a gay couple can only raise a child given failures in other couples.

Santorum: You're matching up best case vs worst case.

Stewart: I'm talking best case because...

Santorum: If it's best case best case, the best case everywhere is one man, one woman, their child, raising that child.

Stewart: Can you legislate an ideal? [next words inaudible]

Santorum: We have to. We owe it to children. Children need a mom and a dad. There are differences between mothers and fathers. And young girls and young boys need both.

Stewart: I would, okay. (pause - laughter)

Stewart: Ultimately you get to this point where it's this crazy stopping point where literally we can't get any further. I don't think you're a bad dude. I don't think I'm a bad dude. But I don't think I can convince you of the idea that I think it's doing society a disservice to dismiss the potential of all these really...

Santorum: I don't think it's dismissing the potential. I think we should honor every person in America - that every person has worth and dignity. There's a difference though, when it comes to changing the laws of the country, that could harm children.

That partial transcript was thanks to Andy and you can download the segment in its entirety by clicking here. Stewart handled himself okay in the interview, it’s not like it was a complete disaster, but still, this is exactly the sort of person Stewart should be going after like the mainstream media never does.

Why didn’t Stewart ask Santorum what he meant when he said homosexuals “can be virtuous people,” when he accused homosexuality of leading down a path towards incest and bestiality a couple of years ago in an interview with AP? How can Santorum possibly call someone virtuous if they are committing acts that lead to incest and bigamy? Why didn’t Stewart ask Rick what these “differences” between “mothers and fathers are” such that children need both of them? Why didn’t Stewart challenge this quote from Santorum, “elevate marriage to a special status is not because they want to affirm the relationship between two adults,” because that’s exactly what I first think of when I think of a marriage, and I think you can make a very strong argument that that is the purpose of a marriage. Why didn’t Stewart ask Santorum how this quote “And so we should have a system that builds around what's best, and that's the traditional, what I call natural…” with a different ending phrase (say, family structure, colour divisions), is any different from the ones used to justify patriarchies or segregation? Why didn’t Stewart ask Santorum why his book leaves no place for women in society, but barefoot and pregnant? Finally, why didn’t he suggest that Santorum’s views aren’t different, they are intolerant?

For what it’s worth, Stewart apparently devoured that idiot Bernie Goldberg last week. I wish I had seen that. And he’s still 100 times better than most news shows.

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