Twelve years ago today, then-Daily Show host Jon Stewart donned a black sweater, appeared on CNN’s Crossfire program and utterly humiliated hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala.
It was, for me, a grand moment of advocacy journalism — a comic journalist appearing on a TV
journalism media program and shoving dynamite up its hypothetical and very useless ass.
I showed professors. I showed my parents. I showed friends and girlfriends. I must have watched it on a then-fledgling YouTube 50 times.
And 12 years later — in an America where much has changed but cable TV “news” remains as insufferable as ever — it’s still worth watching.
‘Stop. Stop hurting America’
“I’m here to confront you because we need help from the media, and they’re hurting us,” Stewart says just before the six-minute mark in the above video, which is blurrier than we’re probably now used to because this is a bootleg recording from 2004, a time in which one still had to download .wmv files to watch porn.
For further context, remember that Jon Stewart was confronting Begala and Carlson about one month prior to the 2004 election in which incumbent President George W. Bush toppled challenger John Kerry. Bush’s campaign had managed to throw Kerry’s meritorious military record into question by Swift-Boating the Massachusetts senator. (Speaking of downloading videos in 2004, check SwiftVets.com as a strange internet time capsule.)
In the clip above, Stewart’s appearance hits full-throttle around the 6:30 mark when he uses Carlson’s trademark bow tie as a way to argue that Crossfire is more “political theater” than “political debate.” Then, Carlson makes an awkward reference to throne-sniffing and Stewart being Kerry’s “butt boy,” to which the Daily Show host responds with possibly his best lines of the segment.
“You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably,” Stewart says.
Carlson interjects: “You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.”
Stewart replies: “You need to go to one.”
Tempers flare from there.
Who will be the Jon Stewart of today?
Three months after Stewart’s appearance on the show, CNN announced Crossfire would be cancelled. (It was revived for a brief run from late 2013 to October 2014 only to be cancelled again.)
In a world where CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have only doubled down on asinine ploys to fill 24/7 airtime, I often think back to Stewart’s take down of Crossfire and hope that someone — maybe John Oliver? — will be invited onto, say, Fox & Friends, CNN Profiles or Morning Joe and take aim at the idiocy of jibbering heads who paint everything as left/right, black/white or right/wrong.
Thanks for the laughs, memories and the moral outrage, Jon.