Jon Stewart: Advocacy Journalist?

Daily Show host Jon Stewart

It might fairly be asked whether Jon Stewart has crossed the line from political satire to the kind of political advocacy for which he constantly lampoons Glenn Beck.

But the New York Times is among those crediting Stewart with changing the momentum that pushed the U.S. Senate to pass a healthcare bill for 9/11 first responders.

If Stewart was awaiting his moment to dive into the pool of politics, he chose well. Congress was stalled on passing a bill to provide healthcare to Ground Zero rescue crews, many of whom are now ill with maladies blamed on their exposure to World Trade Center toxins after the buildings were felled by terrorists on 9/11.

Stewart is even being compared to Edward R. Murrow, a fairly trite description. If this episode makes him an advocacy journalist, comparing him to the mudraking George Seldes might be more apt. Which makes it even more difficult to imagine Stewart retreating back to satire.

Satirists don’t have to choose sides. They can pick on anybody. Advocates have to choose. To a degree, a satirist is what Keith Olbermann once was. Now he’s little more than a lackey for the far left.

Stewart has proven over the years he has a deft touch. Maybe he has this all mapped out. Here’s hoping so. Because it seems preferable that he act as this generation’s Jonathan Swift, not just another Glenn Beck. We’ve already got enough barking-mad cable-TV talking heads trying to shape the world in their own political image.

Still, it’s very hard not to be glad that this thing got done, even if the advocacy of Stewart (and to be fair, plenty of others) led to only half a loaf. Republicans required that the bill be trimmed from its original $7.4 billion to about $4.3 billion. Still, as Time magazine notes, it is impossible to ignore the momentum shift in favor of action on the bill that came about after Stewart devoted an entire night’s broadcast to the first responders.

In the wake of Stewart’s show, ABC’s Jonathan Karl ran a story on World News and the cable nets seem to have woken up to the bill’s existence. On Sunday, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand announced that a revised version of the bill, which reduces the cost from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion — the measure is offset by closing a corporate tax loop hole — had gained at least some GOP support. Indeed, several prominent Republicans have come out in support of the bill with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace calling it a “national shame” that the legislation has yet to be enacted.

The Daily Show is not offering embed links to the segments. But you can see part of Stewart’s pitch for passing the “Zadroga Bill“–named after NYPD police detective James Zadroga, who died from complications caused by environmental exposure at Ground Zero–in the MSNBC segment included below (with annoying annotations added by some anonymous YouTuber).

About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly is freelance writer and editor in Bloomington, Minn. He is a former managing editor with Washington Post Newsweek Interactive and a founding editor at Channel 4000, the news Web site of WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. Kevin has published thousands of news stories, features and commentaries that emphasize technology, public policy and the law.
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