Written by Eric Boehlert
There’s lots of media chatter about Comedy Central host Jon Stewart in the wake of yesterday’s Senate vote to pass the 9/11 first responders bill. The chatter surrounds what appears to be the central media role Stewart played in shining a spotlight on how Republicans were blocking the legislation and, just as importantly, how the Beltway press was, inexcusably, ignoring the unfolding story.
Indeed, as Media Matters first noted, the day after the initial vote was held two weeks ago in which filibustering Republicans unanimously voted to not let the first responder bill proceed, none of the network news telecasts that night reported on the story. None. And in the 48 hours that followed, the cable news channels didn’t have much to say either, nor did many print or online pundits. The bill to aid Sept. 11 heroes had been dealt a rather stunning blow in the Senate, and most mainstream media players didn’t care, to the point where the story wasn’t even covered.
But yes, on the night of the vote, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart covered the vote. And Stewart, in his signature way, highlighted the stunning hypocrisy in play.
Then last week Stewart reloaded for another round. Plus, the host sat down with first responders and interviewed them about the diseases many of them were suffering, and also got their take on the surprisingly difficult legislative battle they were facing in Congress.
And guess what? Stewart, at that point, was practically alone in carrying out that simple act of journalism. By dedicating even a few minutes of his show to the 9-11 bill and by interviewing key players in the saga, Stewart instantly lapped most of the Beltway press corps. Why? Because for some bizarre reason, there seemed to have been a kind of groupthink conclusion that the 9/11 first responder bill, and the fact that it was being blocked by filibustering Republicans, was not news. (Nothing to see here, people… )
But, of course it was. And by shaming both the press and Republicans last week, Stewart proved that point. (And people wonder why younger demos turn to Stewart for their news?)
But again, I don’t think the takeaway here is that OMG a comedian turned the tide of the 9/11 responder debate, mostly because the line between news and entertainment was long ago blurred beyond recognition. What’s more important, and frankly more depressing, is that Stewart was forced to fill a gaping, Mack truck-size hole in the press corps. That is, by pointing out the hypocrisy of the GOP’s opposition to the bill, Stewart was doing the work of what countless pundits should have done. And by interviewing the first responders himself, Stewart was doing the work of what countless reporters should have done.
In other words, Stewart was simply practicing journalism on the first responder story, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is, Stewart was practicing journalism on the story because it seemed nobody else would.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.
About the author
A senior fellow at Media Matters for America, and a former senior writer for Salon, Boehlert’s first book, “Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over for Bush,” was published in May. He can be reached at email@example.com.