Consider this article the flip side of my November 2010 article titled: Has Jon Stewart Ever Watched Chris Wallace? At that time I criticized Stewart for praising Wallace as a credible journalist despite the evidence to the contrary, which I enumerated in the article.
In this interview of Stewart on Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, Stewart continued to extol Wallace’s credibility even as Wallace demonstrated that he had none. However, Stewart was somewhat more on point distinguishing the rabid partisanship of Fox News from other media. Wallace opened the interview with a relevant and insightful quote by Stewart describing Fox News as…
“…a relentless agenda-driven 24 hour news opinion propaganda delivery system.”
So far so good. Then Wallace asked…
“Are you willing to say the same thing about the mainstream media – about ABC, CBS, NBC, Washington Post, New York Times?”
To this Stewart responded with an unequivocal “No.” He later elaborated saying that the bias of much of the media is toward “sensationalism, conflict, and laziness,” rather than liberalism. That was certainly borne out by the recent coverage that fixated on a liberal congressman’s adventures in sexting. Wallace is as oblivious to the mainstream media’s frequent bias against liberals as he is to Stewart’s regular satirizing of them.
When Wallace suggested that Stewart’s comparison of the editing techniques used in a Sarah Palin video and an advertisement for a Herpes medication was political, Stewart pointedly told Wallace, “You’re insane!” But Wallace was utterly incapable of comprehending the difference between the mockery of a person or a practice. It is the same distinction that many people miss with regard to The Daily Show. It is not, in fact, a program of political satire. It is media satire, and to the extent that it addresses politics, it is almost always with respect to how it is covered in the press.
For much of the interview Wallace attempted to portray Stewart as a “political player,” while Stewart maintained that he was, first and foremost, a comedian. In Wallace’s view there is no difference between what Stewart does and what Wallace himself does. I would say that at least one difference is that, while people are laughing with Stewart, they are laughing at Wallace. And when Wallace said that he thinks Stewart is an idealistic, partisan, activist, Stewart responded that “That’s the soup you swim in,” implying that Wallace simply can’t see it differently because of the partisanship that envelops Wallace’s perspective.
So far so good. Then Stewart referenced “ideological regimes” that get “marching orders” and Wallace asked…
“Then how do you explain me? Do you think I get marching orders?”
And here is where Stewart stumbled saying…
“I think that you are here, in some respects, to bring a credibility and an integrity to an organization that might not otherwise have it without your presence.”
Stewart is right, of course, about Fox’s lack of credibility, but he completely missed the fact that Fox is well known for issuing marching orders to their reporters. Former Fox News VP John Moody used to do so in his “Morning Memos,” and current Fox Washington Bureau chief, Bill Sammon, has repeatedly issued directives to cover stories with a specific bias. For example, he told his staff to use the phrase “government-run health care” instead of “Public Option” after establishing that public option tested better among voters. Likewise, he prohibited talk of global warming without disclaimers that there was disagreement about the theory, despite the fact that every legitimate climate scientist agrees that climate change is occurring and it is caused by humans.
Stewart should have been able to counter Wallace’s query on marching orders. Instead he gave Wallace a wholly undeserved compliment. How can Stewart regard Wallace as fair and balanced when Wallace is on record saying that, on the whole, he agrees with Sean Hannity? And where is Wallace’s integrity when he responds to Stewart’s assertion that news consumers are disappointed by saying that…
“I don’t think our viewers are the least bit disappointed with us. I think our viewers think, “Finally!” they are getting somebody who tells the other side of the story.”
That is a brazen admission that Fox’s purpose is to be biased and take sides on the way news stories are told. That quote should be chiseled into the facade of the Fox News headquarters building in New York, and it should settle, once and for all, the argument as to whether Fox News is biased.
But Stewart did get in a final dig that really sums up the role Fox plays in modern media when he noted that Fox has “the most consistently misinformed viewers.” That was a pretty gutsy thing to say to the Fox viewers who will be watching this. [Note: Stewart must have forgotten that his own viewers were rated the most knowledgeable]. Wallace didn’t even bother to rebut the point, instead he showed a vulgar and unrelated clip from a celebrity roast on Comedy Central and implied that Stewart had something to do with it. That was just a cheap shot that landed with a thud. More to the point is the fact that Stewart’s Daily Show is more popular than Fox News. Let Wallace deal with that.
[Update] I just swapped in the video above. This video contains portions of the interview that were cut out of the on-air version. Some notable segments that didn’t make it to air include Stewart asking Wallace if he “think[s] that Fox News is exactly the ideological equivalent of NBC News?” In response, Wallace said that “I think we’re the counterweight. I think they have a liberal agenda, and I think that we tell the other side of the story.” That’s another confession by Wallace that Fox is deliberately biased in a partisan way.
Also cut out was Stewart mentioning Bill Sammon’s emails, and the incident when all three networks cut away from Nancy Pelosi after she said she would be commenting on jobs and Medicare, but not Weiner. I wonder why Fox didn’t want their viewers to hear these segments.
[Update II] Jon Stewart has addressed the concerns of critics (and some commenters here) regarding the PolitiFact assessment of his remarks on Fox’s proclivity for misinformation. He notes that Fox has earned PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” award for two years running. But that aint all. Here is his informative and hilarious smackdown: