Jon Stewart has torn apart more than one politician in his time, and if a new report in New York magazine is true, NBC desperately wanted to hire him to do it for them full-time.
According to the report, sources within the network say that NBC was prepared to offer the Comedy Central host virtually “anything” to get him to be the next host of Meet The Press.
Before choosing [Chuck] Todd, NBC News president Deborah Turness held negotiations with Jon Stewart about hosting Meet the Press, according to three senior television sources with knowledge of the talks. One source explained that NBC was prepared to offer Stewart virtually “anything” to bring him over. “They were ready to back the Brinks truck up,” the source said.
And while it may seem like a radical departure from the norm to hire a comedian to run a Sunday morning news program, the leap isn’t as far as one would think.
In many interviews Stewart downplays his impact on American society by insisting that he is simply a comedian who mocks the news (and the people who make it), but for all his humbleness, that isn’t exactly true. For many he also represents one of the fiercest critics of politics around and one of the few people covering the news that audiences trust. (Note: That isn’t hyperbole. Occasionally, The Daily Show polls higher in trustworthiness than MSNBC or Fox News — and for good reason.)
It may be because The Daily Show doesn’t schmooze with Washington, D.C. politicians like establishment journalists do. Stewart has always treated his show as an outsider; the kid sitting in the back of the class shooting spitballs while the rest try to study. The effect is that while traditional news networks have retreated into partisan politics, silly gimmicks, and puff pieces rather than hard-hitting journalism, The Daily Show with Stewart at the helm has expertly demanded answers to the tough questions, and didn’t mind calling out anyone who tried to avoid them.
Take, for example, his infamous 2009 exchange with a conservative flack named Betsy McCaughey who had been running from interview to interview telling audiences that Obamacare was going to kill them and their families (I’m only slightly exaggerating here), before she made the fatal misstep of agreeing to go on The Daily Show.
Here’s the video:
Her interview was a disaster for the Republican talking point engine and Stewart’s systematic dismantling of her nonsense was refreshing considering her treatment on other networks was that she simply represented one side of a two side debate. Fox News, for example, hungrily used her blatant fabrications about the healthcare bill as scriptural truths, boldly parroting whatever came out of her mouth regardless of veracity. After this interview, that all changed.
Just one day after it aired, McCaughey announced that she was resigning from her post at the Board of Cantel Medical Corporation for vague reasons (albeit vague only if one had not watched Jon Stewart beat her at her own game on his show).
And lest conservatives cry foul because Stewart is an unabashed liberal, he has taken fellow liberals to task with just as much intensity. After the Obamacare rollout began in disaster, Stewart asked the Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius onto the show and it wasn’t pretty.
“We’re gonna do a challenge,” Jon Stewart said, pulling out a laptop as he ushered Kathleen Sebelius to the hot seat. “I’m gonna try and download every movie ever made, and you’re gonna try and sign up for Obamacare—and we’ll see which happens first.” (source)
Sebelius, too, resigned shortly after — although unlike McCaughey, it probably wasn’t due exclusively to Stewart’s embarrassing call out.
The takeaway here is that Stewart is one of the rarest of political commentators (yes, a title he would probably disdain). He isn’t afraid to hit back when he suspects a politician or talking head isn’t being truthful. He’s also demonstrated an inability to hold back even when the person sitting across from him is daunting. In essence, he’s the political show host we as a nation need, if not the one we truly deserve.
Unfortunately for NBC, Stewart didn’t bite on the offer. Although he recently took a hiatus from his show to direct his first feature film (the upcoming drama about a journalist in Iran called Rosewater), it appears he isn’t ready to vacate his seat at The Daily Show any time soon.
And why should he? He gets to keep his seat at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the bullies who are used to getting their way.