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Political satire took a disturbing turn last week. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about Politico’s report detailing Jon Stewart’s secret meetings with the Obama White House. Disappointing? Certainly. Surprising? Not especially. This revelation completes Stewart’s transformation from alleged independent funnyman to confirmed White House mouthpiece, appropriately as he exited stage left for good on August 6th.
The left has long been the home of the lesser lights of political “comedy” – Al Franken, Air America, Janeane Garofalo, just to name a few. But since Stewart finally signed off for good Thursday night, he takes his place at the bottom of that list, in a place of special distinction. Few comics have had his lack of candor to his audience. Few have had such a low opinion of their fans’ intelligence. If Rush Limbaugh is to have his own wing in the Museum of Broadcasting, Jon Stewart clearly merits his own lavatory stall (toilet paper not included).
Stewart has long hidden behind the shield of “fake” news. His less-than-astute observations of others in positions of actual responsibility (positions he could never hold) are made between ridiculous faces made into the camera (“hey audience, here’s your cue to laugh!”); but, when called out for the obvious sophistry of his own arguments, he slinks behind the “parody” shield– because, you know, it was all just a joke. Except for the parts that nobody’s bothering to criticize – that wasn’t a joke.
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It’s a mildly clever tactic, especially considering the less-than-clever core audience to which he panders. Hammer the “establishment” (invariably conservative Republican), pepper in an occasional criticism of a leftist in order to maintain “balance” with your low-information viewers, and laugh all the way to the bank. I mean, how hard is it to get one over on a following who put the previous incarnation of his buffoonery in the same realm as the imminently intellectual offerings of Beavis and Butt-Head? However, secret meetings and clandestine communications with the White House is in an entirely different realm. When you put aside the jokes, the remainder of his content was intended to be grown-up, honest-to-God journalism. But what self-respecting independent journalist would meet with the very party he is supposed to be reporting on and not only fail to file a report on it, but not even mention it at all? The answer is that these weren’t interviews or small talk. They were marching orders issued by the White House to someone they knew had a perceived disinterested neutrality to the Administration and the kind of reach with the 18-to-34 crowd they could never hope to achieve.
The White House employed the age-old tactic of offering continued access for telling the story the way they wanted it told. Stewart, sensing the opportunity but failing to sniff out the obvious ploy (or simply not caring that he was being used), faithfully repeated the propaganda; and the White House kept making him feel important, even to the point of filling his pockets with ratings every time Obama came on his show (seven times, for those who are keeping count). A White House with no sense of ethics and a jester with no moral compunction about lying to his broad audience – it’s a match made in political heaven!
The Obama Administration has made more missteps than this space allows me to detail. But what they have rarely failed to do is find unconventional ways to effectively respond to criticism, a skill they have honed to a fine edge due to the remarkably thin skin exhibited by the Oval Office since Day 1. This time, they have done it by taking a page from Lenin’s playbook and employing useful idiots.
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And, after all was said and done, when the credits rolled and the camera faded to black on Stewart’s last show, that’s exactly how he is going to be remembered – Obama’s useful idiot.
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