TV news is corrupt and incentivized to accentuate conflict over clarity, with Washington’s media and politicians constituting “an incredibly corrupt and blinded, symbiotic terrarium,” according to Jon Stewart.
The comic-satirist and longtime TV host left no doubt that he’s not softened toward the media, government or the political process since exiting “The Daily Show” during an appearance at the University of Chicago Monday.
More than 1,000 students showed up for an appearance sponsored by the university’s Institute of Politics. David Axelrod, the former political strategist who founded the institute, interviewed Stewart on stage for airing starting Thursday on his “The Axe Files” podcast.
It was, at certain moments, a diplomatically combative session, especially when Stewart rebuked the Obama administration for being far more adept at campaigning than governing and Axelrod pushed back. (“This is how Jews make love, how we communicate,” Stewart said during one exchange with Axelrod, who is also Jewish)
Speaking about current campaign coverage, he said, “The media is as usual focused on the wrong things and abdicating responsibility for the general filtration of toxicity.”
When it came to Donald Trump, whom he detests, “I don’t necessarily believe a full court press on (the truth of his comments) would necessarily change it.” He finds Trump playing to an audience best understood through the prism of talk radio. That world is “24/7 of ‘your country is being taken away from you.’ They love America. They just hate 50 percent of the people who live in it. “
Stewart looks at the presidential campaign and sees “the press covering the campaign, but not covering veracity” in any sustained, systematic way. He feels Trump shows how the “system is incentivized in the way a crack dealer is incentivized. It can do tremendous damage but as long as people are buying crack, everything is good on his block. I truly believe it’s that corrosive and corrupt.”
“When you have the presidents of networks saying Trump is good for business…When you have the lead anchor of Fox News having to go to Trump’s hotel to make him stop being mean to her,” referring to Megyn Kelly, “and now he says she’s terrific, because they’ve had a détente, that’s fucked.”
“There are heads of networks who have said he’s great for business. Why would you kill the thing that’s great for business?
The press, he believes, is no longer part of a “predator and prey” relationship, “which I think should be the relationship.” Instead, it’s “a remora (small fish that attaches itself to a larger one) that’s just attached underneath, hoping for crumbs that fall off the shark.”
Axelrod pushed back on Stewart on both the potential good of government, seeing Stewart as too harsh on the system, and the press being lapdogs. He mentioned an interview Sunday of Trump by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos as having displayed resistance to Trump’s flimsy hold on truthful statements.
Stewart said, “A counterweight doesn’t mean you push back occasionally, to a small extent as the waters rush by you everywhere else.”
He then cited Fox News as understanding that “to take over the cycle, you need to be relentless, the need to be perpetuating your point of view and your propaganda in the same way people consume it, which is constantly and self-reinforcingly and over and over and over again. Unless you push back with the same force, you won’t have any balance.”
“You would want (TV) to be incentivized for clarity,” Stewart said. “What is it incentivized for? Conflict.”
The recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner was broached, particularly the not well-received speech by comic Larry Wilmore, a former Stewart colleague on “The Daily Show.”
“Everybody went nuts,” Stewart said. “‘He’s done! He’s finished! He’ll never get asked back.’ I don’t think he gives a shit. The post-show analysis was all based on how he’d helped himself, how the room had read it. But nowhere was there an examination of the foundation of what he was saying. Which is, ‘You are an incredibly corrupt and blinded, symbiotic terrarium.'”
During a post-podcast question-and-answer session with students, Stewart reiterated how Fox has melded its ideology with its business model. As for as its rivals, he had different takes.
“CNN doesn’t have an ideology other than narrating the news as it happens outside without knowing why. MSNBC would like to have the clarity of their ideology mesh with making money but so far that just hasn’t worked out. “