Jon Stewart took the American media to task on “The Daily Show” Tuesday night, bashing it for only turning its attention to the troubled city of Baltimore once that city boiled over into fiery rioting and violent looting:
While much of “The Daily Show” revolves around mocking the rest of the media for how it covers things, the program hardly lacks editorial freedom, since it features a nightly guest and also routinely produces its own segments not tethered to the news of the day. If the plight of Baltimore’s poor and marginalized was a priority for Stewart, he had no shortage of opportunities to cover it while deploying the comedy talents of his writing staff. So, how often has Stewart dealt with Baltimore’s crippling social problems? Were there any segments on low graduation rates, high crime, and rampant public corruption?
Thankfully, Comedy Central maintains a robust, easily-searched archive of old “Daily Show” episodes on its website. Searching “Baltimore” on the database reveals 61 different segments from 1999 through April 27, 2014 that mention the city in some capacity, an average of about four per year. Three of those segments are concerned with the recent unrest and four are recaps of other material on the show, leaving 54 to work with.
Needless to say, not all of these segments actually directly involve Baltimore, and even those that do don’t necessarily deal with poverty, segregation, or the other nascent problems that allegedly drove the city’s recent outburst.
Consider, for instance, the city’s football team, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have appeared in two Super Bowls and were at the center of the NFL’s domestic violence scandal in 2014, and that has led to quite a few segments mentioning them directly or indirectly. Not only do these segments not touch upon Baltimore’s poverty or racial issues, some seem to deliberately run away from those issues.
For example, this 2001 segment goes to Baltimore before the Super Bowl and somehow manages to show zero black people:
Overall, there are 11 segments that simply mention the Ravens, along with another about the Orioles, taking the segment count down to 42, or about 2.6 per year.
But after taking out sports references, there are plenty of segments where the connection to Baltimore is even more tenuous than that. One clip from 2004 about the Iraq War, for instance, simply mentions Sinclair Broadcasting, a Baltimore-based telecommunications company. Another clip involving newspapers name-drops The Baltimore Sun. Other bits involve regular political events that happen in Baltimore.
In fact, after removing all the incidental mentions of Baltimore from the list, the number of segments dealing with the city dwindles to a mere eight, or 0.5 per year. Of the eight remaining segments, only two are genuinely about Baltimore, and they are hardly concerned with the plight of the city’s underclass.
The 2002 segment “Red Light Special” is concerned with the highly relatable problem of a small, mom-and-pop strip club in East Baltimore being driven out of business by a leaner, more efficient strip club chain:
The other segment, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” concerns another pressing problem in America: The decline of pubic lice thanks to improving grooming standards. Baltimore is noted as one of the “last pristine ecosystems” for pubic lice, partly thanks to the influence of Baltimore film director and pubic lice fan John Waters:
Three more segments make a throwaway joke at Baltimore’s expense, though each does at least allude to Baltimore’s troubles by implying that it is a terrible city.
In the 2007 segment “Anger Management,” about violence in Iraq, Jon Stewart quips that D.C.’s murder rate can’t be compared to that of Baghdad: “Washington, D.C. is violent, but they aren’t finding 30-50 corpses in the street every day,” said Stewart.
“Well, no, of course not, it’s not Baltimore,” Aasif Mandvi swiftly replies, to applause from the audience.
In a 2009 segment on the problem of inappropriate news teasers, Stewart’s joke response to a news host’s vague statement about a new HIV outbreak in the U.S. is “It’s Baltimore, isn’t it?”
Also in 2009, when James O’Keefe’s secret videos helped to bring down ACORN, Stewart suggested that ACORN employees’ openness to helping conceal underage prostitutes could be blamed more on Baltimore than any perfidy on the organization’s part.
“OK, so this ACORN office has some bad apples. Baltimore! I’ve seen ‘The Wire,’ the place is a shithole!” says Stewart.
At this point, the 54 clips available at the start have dwindled to a mere three (.19 per year) that actually so much as mention the plight of Baltimore in a substantive way.
In the 2013 segment “Weapons of Mass Discussion,” Baltimore County’s police chief is quoted testifying before Congress on the value of universal background checks for stopping illegal gun sales.
Just two months ago, Stewart interviewed author Wes Moore, who grew up in Baltimore. During the interview, Moore talks about growing up in Baltimore’s poor neighborhoods, and advocates for improving poor communities by improving the expectations America has for them.
And in 2012, then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich landed in hot water for saying he wanted to go before the NAACP and tout the importance of paychecks over food stamps. Stewart ridiculed Gingrich for expressing surprise that people were offended, and joked about the idea that Gingrich was “willing to head down to the slums of Baltimore, taking my life into my own hands, and teach you people what a paycheck looks like.”
The combined length of these three clips is 13:36, barely half the length of a 22-minute episode, and the Baltimore mentions are only a small part of them. Stewart’s tenure as host of “The Daily Show” has spanned over 2,500 episodes, or more than 55,000 minutes, meaning that Baltimore’s policing, segregation, and poverty have merited about .0025 percent of Stewart’s time.
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