Sunday, March 18, 2007

Jon Stewart on Crossfire

(NOT TO BE MISSED: If you've never seen the clip of Jon Stewart on Crossfire, the video link is in this post, just scroll down.)

When I was a kid in the 70s, my dad used to watch news debating shows every Sunday afternoon. "Watch" might be a bit of a stretch... they'd play in the background while he tinkered around the house. I'd often wander into the kitchen to find his solitary cigarette burning into its way into the kitchen sink while talking heads would hover on our trusty 11 inch Sony Triniton.

Even if I didn't watch them much because I couldn't yet grasp the context of their debate, those old news shows seemed pretty good (similar in tone to The McNeil-Lehrer News Hour or any NPR news show). As I grew older, I learned to appreciate who was talking, and why, the pros and cons of their debate, who sounded sensible, who didn't, etc.

Then, in the early 90s, shows like CNN's polemical Crossfire and Hardball emerged, and I began to loathe the trend towards sensationalist bulldog news shows. Producers of The Howard Stern Show had taught one valuable lesson to all news program producers: listeners and viewers who hate a show are twice as likely to listen to it or watch it. Hatred, after all, is not the opposite of love... apathy is. To hate something implies you care enough about it to continue having a relationship with it. Case in point: I'm not a fan of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly or Chris Matthews, but I sometimes watch or listen to them to see how big of a nobhead they're going to be. (NB: I am also very careful not to buy anything advertised on their programs.)

And so, a few months ago, I watched a 2004 video clip of Jon Stewart as a guest on Crossfire and instead of playing their sensationalist game, Stewart turned the tables on the bulldogs and got brutally honest with them. The Executive Producer of The Daily Show happened to be sitting in the audience (next to Crossfire's producer... can you say, "awkward"?) and remarked: "You could feel the air being sucked out of the room."

This is positively one of the best pieces of TV I've seen all year—not because it's conflictual or sensationalist, but because Stewart articulates exactly what I've wanted to say to these guys for years. Just thinking about it gives me sweaty palms.

Not long after this broadcast, I heard CNN "transferred" the bowtie guy to another program.

And eventually, Crossfire was cancelled.

If we're to move ahead in this country, we're better off if we put a stop on the silly partisan polarization this country seems to have become obsessed with since the mid-90s. Perhaps the adversarial model works well for legal trials, but in a political forum, dismissing what people say or do because of their political leanings accomplishes one thing very effectively: it puts people on the defensive—and if they're on the defensive, how can they be open to anything you have to say? Play the ball, not the man.

When we can all sit in a room and remain civil with someone who holds beliefs completely contrary to our own, we'll have finally moved beyond these sensationalist news programs and angry AM talk radio shows which foster self-righteousness, divisiveness, prejudice, and... well, hate. It's not sexy, and it doesn't sell news, but it will make our blood pressure come back down.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

That was so freakin' hilarious! Tucker Carlson really cracked up by the end.

I disagree with you about the whole civility issue, BTW. I'd rather see the Crossfire guys escalate to the sword of their choice.