Liberals who have American flags (a larger contingent than our more conservative fellow citizens typically acknowledge) are likely flying them at half-mast to mark the retirement from Comedy Central of Jon Stewart, the satirist-patriot who since 1999 has been more or less a one-man defense against the Republican propaganda armada.
Stewart likes to think of himself as an equal-opportunity sniper, lambasting hypocrisy, stupidity, and meanness on both sides of the political aisle. But even if that were ever the case, the battle lines shifted over time. More and more conservatives moved farther right into John Birch/Bizarro territory, leaving the compassionate, generally objective, fundamentally honest Stewart looking more partisan than he really was or meant to be.
Stewart’s great civic contribution, even more than his steady harassment of Fox News’ politically motivated shills, has been his steady exposure of mainstream news’ cowardly embrace of “balance.” He and his cohorts demonstrated over and over that it was possible to determine the documentable, defensible facts of a matter and say, “Hey, this is the way it is.”
I got to talk to Stewart once. I didn’t get to interview him one-on-one, just took part in a mass press conference when he was being introduced as the new anchor of The Daily Show.
But after the big Q&A, we both ended up in the smoking area, and as we chatted about soccer and some Minneapolis friends we had in common, he hit me up for a cigarette. He was an old-fashioned, Pall Mall guy, and he’d run out of smokes. I had Marlboros. He accepted one, thanked me, and broke off the filter before lighting up.
Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much the same approach he took on his show. It’s my turn to say thank you.