Jon Stewart gets out-Foxed

The Huffington Post headline proclaimed triumphantly, “Jon Stewart LIVE on Fox News, Tells Host ‘You’re Insane.’” Well yes, Jon Stewart did indeed say that to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace at one point during their riveting discussion yesterday of media bias. But that headline doesn’t come close to capturing how the interview actually went down, and more accurately captures HuffPo’s wishful thinking that their hero would march into the Faux News Evil Empire and kick some serious butt. HuffPo didn’t get its wish. The rest of us, however, were treated to an excellent discussion in which Stewart eventually admitted that many longstanding conservative complaints about the media are valid.

As reported by Jeff Poor on these pages, Stewart admitted that there is “probably” a liberal bias in the media. He admitted that the majority of people working in the media “probably” hold liberal viewpoints. He admitted that to some extent, conservatives are right that they have been “victims of a witch hunt.” He admitted that conservatives are called racists and other names “with an ease that I am uncomfortable with.” He admitted that conservatives have a “real right to be angry” about these things and to feel that they have been vilified. And he admitted that he himself has been guilty of some of these things.

I give Stewart props for eventually reaching the point where he could admit all of this. I’d have given him more props if he didn’t have to be dragged there kicking and screaming. The fact that Stewart eventually got there is a testament to Chris Wallace’s brilliant questioning and dogged refusal to let Stewart off the hook.

Wallace pressed Stewart on his assertion that Fox News is unique among major media organizations in promoting an ideological agenda. Stewart did allow that MSNBC is “attempting” to pursue a liberal agenda, as if to imply that MSNBC is somehow less nefarious than Fox because the former is merely “attempting” to be ideological. Stewart’s point would only make sense if MSNBC were somehow failing in its “attempt” to be ideological. With a primetime lineup that features Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz, MSNBC’s “attempt” to be ideological has clearly been wildly successful.

I had given Stewart credit for lampooning the media’s wild goose chase through Sarah Palin’s emails. It turns out that I had given him too much credit. When pressed by Wallace, Stewart refused to admit that the targeting of Palin for an unprecedented fishing expedition was evidence of the media’s political bias. Stewart attempted to minimize the importance of the fiasco by calling the Palin emails “fluff.” He completely missed the point that the media had been salivating to find not “fluff” but damaging dirt on Palin, as if she were their political opponent.

At another point, Wallace played a clip of Stewart mimicking GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain in an exaggerated African-American accent. Stewart’s rant, in his best minstrel show voice, concluded with: “I am Herman Cain, and I do not like to read!”

Stewart seemed genuinely stung when Wallace jokingly asked him whether he was planning “a remake of Amos ‘n’ Andy.” Stewart defensively asked Wallace why he didn’t show the other voices that Stewart does on the show, such as his “New York voice” or his “Chinese guy voice.” Right, Jon. That side-splitting “Chinese guy voice” of yours is a great way to refute charges of racial insensitivity. That Stewart would make such a glaring unforced error shows how much Wallace had thrown him off his game.