In defense of Jon Stewart

The transcript of the much-discussed Cramer vs Stewart dialogue:

STEWART: I gotta tell you. I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a f–ing game. When I watch that I get, I can’t tell you how angry it makes me, because it says to me, you all know. You all know what’s going on. You can draw a straight line from those shenanigans to the stuff that was being pulled at Bear and at AIG and all this derivative market stuff that is this weird Wall Street side bet.

CRAMER: But Jon, don’t you want guys like me that have been in it to show the shenanigans? What else can I do? I mean, last night’s show–

STEWART: No, no, no, no, no. I want desperately for that, but I feel like that’s not what we’re getting. What we’re getting is… Listen, you knew what the banks were doing and yet were touting it for months and months. The entire network was and so now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst…. But it’s very easy to get on this after the fact. The measure of the network, and the measure of the mess… CNBC could act as-No one is asking them to be a regulatory agency, but can’t-but whose side are they on? It feels like they have to reconcile as their audience the Wall Street traders that are doing this for constant profit on a day-to-day for short term. These guys’ companies were on a Sherman’s March through their companies, financed by our 401ks, and all the incentives of their companies were for short term profit. And they burned the f–ing house down with our money and walked away rich as hell, and you guys knew that that was going on.

I don’t watch The Daily Show myself, although I rather like Jon Stewart’s approach to skewering those who insist on shish-kebabing themselves on their own words caught on camera. I’m very much on Stewart’s side with regards to the financial media’s complete corruption; longtime readers are very familiar with my complete contempt for the Wall Street cheerleader set. (Who, as predicted, are already claiming that an obvious four-day bear market rally should be confused with a long-term “bottom”. Listen to them at your peril.) The fact that Stewart is a overt liberal who is in the bag for Obama doesn’t make him any less funny or his criticism of financial frauds such as CNBC any less pertinent. Stewart has no mandate to be an equal opportunity critic and if he wishes to continue overlook the rich panoply of comedic content in the inept Obama administration, that will be his loss.

It is a bit cowardly that Stewart likes to take serious shots, then hide behind his comedian’s hat. But so what? There isn’t a single major public figure of left, right or center that I can think of who is willing to publicly take on those who challenge their opinions in anything but cable news soundbite-fest. In fact, John Derbyshire, Dinesh D’Souza, and I are about the only minor-league commentators who have demonstrated a consistent willingness to do so… Derb and I proposed an atheism debate on NRO a few months ago, but the editors shot it down because apparently National Review readers are much more interested in reading articles about women hyphenating their names and considering whether Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Repbulican Party or not.

Stewart is both a comedian and a commentator; the two roles are not mutually exclusive. If an interlocutor is able to force Stewart to retreat into his “hey now, I’m just a comedian, don’t hit me” shell after successfully dealing with the questions Stewart has raised, then he has won that encounter. Sometimes, one simply has to know how to recognize a white flag when it is flown.

And there will never be a Jon Stewart of the right because conservatives and libertarians have no need of making their intellectual cases indirectly, through negative implication. Stewart is a sophisticated individual, but he is forced to communicate through sitcom irony because the greater part of his audience is immature and unsophisticated, for all that it pretends to be educated and informed. One must, after all, be extremely unsophisticated to get very worked up over the shocking idea that a blowhard star of a financial investment show is doing anything but selling advertising for stockbrokers.