No Joke: Jon Stewart Takes Aim At 24-Hour Cable News 'Beast'

Stewart blasted Fox and others.
Stewart blasted Fox and others. (Chris Carlson - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008; Page A20

DENVER, Aug. 25 -- Jon Stewart ripped the cable news networks Monday as a "brutish, slow-witted beast" and castigated Fox News in particular as "an appendage of the Republican Party."

Wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki pants and a healthy stubble, the "Daily Show" host told reporters at a University of Denver breakfast that Fox's "fair and balanced" slogan is an insult "to people with brains" and that only "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace "saves that network from slapping on a bumper sticker. . . . Barack Obama could cure cancer and they'd figure out a way to frame it as an economic disaster."

"I'm stunned to see Karl Rove on a news network as an analyst," he said of the Bush White House aide turned Fox commentator. Stewart, who voted for John Kerry in 2004, said he didn't see CNN's James Carville, the former Bill Clinton aide, in the same category because "I don't think he's being passed off as a sage."

A Fox News spokesman, who was authorized to give the network's response to Stewart's comments but declined to be named, replied that "Jon's clearly out of touch," citing a Pew Research Center study showing the network has the most balanced audience in cable news, 39 percent Republicans and 33 percent Democrats. "But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon, as evidenced by the crash-and-burn ratings of this year's Oscars telecast."

Stewart included CNN and MSNBC in a far-ranging indictment of what he called "that false sense of urgency they create, the sense that everything is breaking news. . . . The 24-hour networks are now driving the narratives and everyone else is playing catch-up."

Stewart, who is doing his nightly show from both conventions, declared his love for newspapers as a better source of political coverage but said they are fighting "a losing battle because they're getting overshadowed." He pronounced the network evening newscasts "obsolete" because of the growing speed of news.

The Comedy Central funnyman touched a nerve when he criticized journalists for having off-the-record dinners with politicians, such as a barbecue in March at John McCain's Arizona ranch. "That colors your vision of them so clearly and so profoundly," he said.

When New York Times columnist David Brooks and others protested that there was value in getting to know candidates privately, Stewart stood his ground: "I don't say access is useless. But the more you get sucked into it, the more you become part of that machinery." And when another reporter accused him of courting the press at the breakfast as skillfully as any officeholder, Stewart called the comparison "crazy."

Asked if late-night comics are shying away from Obama, Stewart cracked that they were, because of "liberal bias and not wanting to be racist. They want him to win badly, and yet don't like black people."

Stewart, who pokes fun at Obama as a messiah-like figure, warned that comedy has a short shelf life. "An age joke about McCain is at this point somewhat meaningless -- because it's already trite."

Asked if McCain, a frequent "Daily Show" guest, ever complained about his treatment, Stewart said the senator understands his role: "He knows we're there to introduce him to 20-year-olds smoking out of apple bongs."

Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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