Has Jon Stewart Ever Watched Chris Wallace?

On last night’s The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart interviewed Chris Wallace of Fox News. The resulting veneration was cringe-worthy and wholly undeserved.

Stewart repeatedly praised Wallace as the lone representative of journalistic principle on Fox News, calling him their “news guy.”. This makes me wonder if Stewart has actually ever seen Wallace in action. If he had he would be familiar with how Wallace slants his reporting and cushions his interview subjects with praise, softballs, and leading questions, i.e.:

  • Asking the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes “is it unfair to say that this is a president whose heart doesn’t seem to be into winning the war on terror?”
  • Asking Rush Limbaugh what Obama has done TO the country.
  • Awarding ACORN pimp, James O’Keefe, the “Power Player of the Week.”
  • Calling Democrats “damn fools” for declining to appear on Fox News.
  • Admitting that he “generally agrees” with Sean Hannity.
  • Jumping to the defense of George W. Bush after director Ron Howard suggested comparisons to Richard Nixon.
  • Declaring Sarah Palin to be a “new star in the political galaxy.”
  • Asking George Bush if he was “puzzled by all of the concern in this country about protecting [the] rights of people who want to kill us.”
  • In a criticism of Democratic health care plans, making the absurd observation that “people don’t even contemplate end of life until they’re in an irreversible coma.”

To be sure, Stewart got in a couple moments of clarity. For instance, when he noted that Wallace was hesitant to ask challenging questions of fellow Fox Newser Sarah Palin. Stewart was also on target when he congratulated Wallace and Fox News for “taking back control of the House of Representatives,” clearly associating the goals of Fox News with those of the GOP. Wallace assumed the tribute was for besting MSNBC and CNN in the ratings (all Foxies care more about ratings than reporting). However, Stewart properly corrected him. And then there was the exchange wherein Stewart zinged Wallace by saying…

Stewart: You have a very clear narrative.
Wallace: You mean the truth?
Stewart: [Laughing] No. You know which party you want to elect.

But overall this interview affirmed my long-held criticism that interviewing is not Stewart’s strong point. He often seems more focused on fawning over his guests than challenging them. That’s tolerable when he’s interviewing Hugh Grant about his next romantic comedy, but with political guests he should be at least as provocative as he is in the show’s earlier “funny” segments.

Stewart’s Daily Show is still the funniest and most biting satire on TV. But he should never let a guest get away with the sort of spin for which they would be mocked were they to have done it on another program. And the ingratiating tone he took with Wallace, who is as overtly partisan as the rest of the Fox roster, was a failure from both an informative and a humorous perspective.


4 thoughts on “Has Jon Stewart Ever Watched Chris Wallace?

  1. I can’t say you’re wrong, as he did refer to him as the “news guy,” which is ridiculous, as FOX doesn’t generally report news. However, I kinda took Stewart’s praise of his show as if he thought it was great entertainment value. Stewart seems to think FOX is great at doing what they do, and I don’t disagree. They are good at it. It’s not news though. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I hold Stewart in high esteem, and I’d like to believe that he didn’t mean Chris Wallace was a talented journalist, just that he’s entertaining to watch, like a bad movie you just can’t help but enjoy.

    • I too hold Stewart in high esteem, and my criticism should not detract from that.

      You’re correct that some of his praise was a little backhanded, and I think I pointed that out above. But I think he was off his game here by making a distinction between Wallace and the rest of Fox that doesn’t actually exist.

  2. I’m not sure your examples prove your point. Calling James O’Keefe the Power Player of the Week is not in and of itself an example of bias, for example. (Rarely naming a progressive Power Player of the Week, for instance, would be.)

    I also didn’t like the examples Fox used against NPR two weeks ago. It’s easy to look at a long career and point out 5-6 borderline complaints. There’s nowhere in the news handbook that says you have to be perfect all of the time. I imagine if I was a masochist, I could watch Glenn Beck for a year and point to 5-6 instances where he said something reasonable and sane.

    Wallace is graded on a curve, because he works at Fox. He IS straight news, because of where he works. By comparison, he’s Cronkite. The bigger problem I have is that by WORKING at Fox News, he devalues his worth as a reporter. In other words, no REAL straight newsman would WANT to work there. By taking the job, you are saying “I give up.”

    It’s like being the best chef at McDonalds. It’s a great title, but it’s not what you aspire to. It doesn’t MEAN anything, because you aren’t competing with the best of the best. The fact that he sees that as a title worth owning says all you need to know about how seriously Chris Wallace takes his profession.

  3. In response to the comment about Stewart not being a strong interviewer for his fawning over guests, have you watched his political interviews? Particularly the ones that need the full extended footage available online when they can’t fit the whole thing into the 5 mins on TV? For example his interview with John Yoo the legal architect behind Bush’s justification for waterboarding, or Lou Dobbs? How about his interview with Eric Cantor? How about what is perhaps his most famous interview, Jim Cramer? If you’re just watching what makes it to air, then you’re not going to see much more than a soundbyte which is why most media outlets aren’t suitable for in-depth discussion. You have to actually watch the full interviews to allow time to dig in to complex topics. Watch those interviews and then tell me Jon Stewart is fawning over Betsy McCaughey. Other good ones are Bill Kristol and Douglas Feith. If you’re looking for him to hold liberals toes to the fire watch Tim Kaine or heck, the President himself, Barack Obama. He didn’t make any of these people look good and he consistently pressed the conversation to topics that were difficult for them to deal with and relevant to the contemporary political climate. I think your error is in equating respectful conversation with fawning. Stewart insists on not screaming hyperbole and angry rhetoric and instead having calm but on-point discussion broken up with a bit of comic relief to keep the conversation civil and productive. He’s not trying to “trap” guests into a barrage of badgering like O’Reilly, he’s trying to get into important ideas and set an example for how to do it in a civil way.

Comments are closed.