In what could well be the strangest and most refreshing media moment of the election season, "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart turned up on a live broadcast of CNN's "Crossfire" Friday and accused the mainstream media — and his hosts in particular — of being soft and failing to do their duty as journalists to keep politicians and the political process honest.
Reaching well outside his usual youthful "Daily Show" demo, Stewart took to "Crossfire" to promote his new book, "America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction" (see "Jon Stewart Writes A History Textbook That — At Last! — Features Nudity"), but instead of pushing the tome, Stewart used his time to verbally slap the network and the media for being "dishonest" and "doing a disservice" to the American public. After co-host Tucker Carlson suggested that Stewart went easy on Senator John Kerry when the candidate was a guest on "The Daily Show," Stewart unloaded on "Crossfire," calling hosts Carlson and Paul Begala "partisan hacks" and chiding them for not raising the level of discourse on their show beyond sloganeering.
"What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery," Stewart said. "You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
"I watch your show every day, and it kills me. It's so painful to watch," Stewart added as it became apparent that the comedian was not joking. He went on to hammer the network, and the media in general, for its coverage of the presidential debates. Stewart said it was a disservice to viewers to immediately seek reaction from campaign insiders and presidential cheerleaders following the debates, noting that the debates' famed "Spin Alley" should be called "Deception Lane."
"The thing is, we need your help," Stewart said. "Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations and we're left out there to mow our lawns."
While the audience seemed to be behind Stewart, Begala and Carlson were both taken aback. The hosts tried to feed Stewart set-up lines hoping to draw him into a more light-hearted shtick, but Stewart stayed on point and hammered away at the show, the hosts, and the state of political journalism. Carlson grew increasingly frustrated, at first noting that the segment wasn't "funny," and later verbally sparring with the comedian.
"You're not very much fun," Carlson said. "Do you like lecture people like this, or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?"
"If I think they are," Stewart retorted.
The conversation reached its most heated moment when Carlson said to Stewart, "I do think you're more fun on your show," to which Stewart replied, "You're as big a dick on your show as you are on any show."
"That went great," Stewart could be heard sarcastically saying as the show went off the air (a transcript of the show is available on CNN.com).
In an era when the media is increasingly fragmented and viewers can surround themselves with programming that falls right in line with their own views, be they on the right or the left, Stewart's blast seemed especially on point. It seems fitting that the tirade came on a day when much of the media attention focused on the presidential race was directed at the mention of Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter during the last presidential debate, as opposed to the issues addressed at that debate.