Obama abandoned our embassy in Yemen today, three honors students were murdered in North Carolina, and Boko Haram has kidnapped 270 more girls in Nigeria. All terrible stories, but the American press is mourning another tragedy that hits much closer to home.
Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show.
On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow commiserated with Lawrence O’Donnell that Stewart does news “better than us.” A Washington Post columnist asked “where will young liberals get their news now?” Time magazine called it “a sad day for anyone who cares about news — fake or otherwise.”
Our media elites on Twitter were morose:
I’m devastated. Already feeling a big hole with the Colbert Report gone. Now Stewart…
— Ben Bergman (@thebenbergman) February 11, 2015
Jon Stewart has been, among many other things, one of the finest media critics of this era.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 10, 2015
Jon Stewart has done more to engage next generation in the news than any other single person.
— Patricia Cohen (@PatcohenNYT) February 11, 2015
The online press was even more devastated, perhaps because a Stewart clip usually serves as at least one of their posts each day. Mashable headlines included “How Jon Stewart lifted America out of the gutter” and “The 10 stages of grieving Jon Stewart.” Huffington Post insisted that “Jon Stewart leaving his fake news desk is a loss to real news” while Deadspin claimed that “Jon Stewart should run for office.” From now on these sites will need to get all their “Watch Jon Stewart DISEMBOWEL the GOP on Top Marginal Rates!” stories from John Oliver instead.
It’s odd to see the hold that this aging comic with drooping ratings has on the leftist media/political complex’s self-identity. During the dark days of Dubya, Stewart comforted out-of-sync liberals as a nation supported the knuckle-dragging Texas cowboy. As the GOP fell from grace, Stewart gleefully spiked the football on Team Bush to the cheers of loyal Democrats. He preened as Obama took power, mocking all detractors as obvious racists and dunces. Even when the progressives took an obvious misstep, he would spin the error in a flattering way to point out the real enemies of progress.
Stewart’s formula was simple: he would play an out-of-context clip, stare at the camera, widen his eyes, tap his pencil and smirk. The audience would howl their approval, with more hooting and clapping than laughter. To quote an attendee at a progressive comedy clinic, “what makes Jon Stewart brilliant is that he only has to say the first line and the audience starts laughing because they already know the punchline.”
At its heart, Stewart’s schtick wasn’t comedy to progressives but reassurance. They’re dumb; you’re smart. They’re evil; you’re good. They’re square; you’re hip, you’re now, and you’re in on the joke. To be fair, liberals have needed Stewart more as the Obama era predictably lost its luster. In his first couple of years, Democrats could plausibly claim that their President’s actions would lead to positive outcomes. But now, you can tell that even Obama’s most ardent fans have trouble believing that.
The world is in flames, the economy lackluster, corruption epidemic and Obamacare a disaster. Why think deeply about these failures when you can just listen to Jon Stewart tell you that you’re better than those mean people who predicted the disaster all along?