Friday, February 5, 2010
Jon Stewart, who already had a reputation for lobbing word grenades at media personalities and outlets that displease him, this week delivered one of the most sustained criticisms of Fox News ever heard on Fox News.
That network, lambasted by many on the left as an arm of the conservative movement, is a “cyclonic perpetual emotion machine” that has “taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into a full-fledged panic about the next coming of Chairman Mao,” Mr. Stewart told Bill O’Reilly of Fox.
Parts of the interview were shown on Wednesday and Thursday evenings on Fox News’s most popular program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” and were widely praised by television critics. But Mr. Stewart had a lot more to say about Fox in the portions of the interview that were edited out of the television broadcast.
The exchanges are notable because Mr. Stewart, the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, has occasionally strayed beyond his comedy roots into serious media criticism and drawn great attention for doing so. On “Crossfire” on CNN in 2004, he claimed the left-right debate format was “hurting America,” three months before the program was canceled. Last year he took aim at CNBC for being Wall Street cheerleaders, telling Jim Cramer, the host of its “Mad Money” program, that “the financial news industry is not just guilty of a sin of omission but a sin of commission.”
This week, invited onto “The O’Reilly Factor” by its host, Mr. O’Reilly, Mr. Stewart asserted that Fox News was “the most passionate and sells the clearest narrative of any news organization,” then asked with a smirk, “are you still referring to it in that manner?”
Mr. O’Reilly defended Fox as a news organization and cited a poll last month by the Public Policy Polling organization that showed Fox News was more widely trusted than any other television news organization.
Mr. Stewart said Fox had been able to “mainstream conservative talk radio.” On television on Wednesday night, the exchange ended there. But in the studio, Mr. Stewart swung harder, saying Fox had mixed the “media arm of a political party” with “a little bit” of objectivity, something that White House officials have also asserted in recent months.
Fox News said the interview was edited only for time. A video of the unedited interview was posted on BillOReilly.com and on foxnews.com on Thursday night.
In the interview and in a subsequent segment, Mr. O’Reilly said Mr. Stewart was basing his complaints “primarily on two guys, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.” But Mr. Stewart insisted that the conservative bent permeated the network and cited “Fox & Friends,” the network’s entertainment-oriented morning show, as evidence:
“They’ll go through, ‘These children in second grade are singing the praises of Obama! Do you know they sing the praises of their leader in North Korea?’ And then, when the hard news comes on, they say, ‘Some people are concerned that they are indoctrinating children.’ ”
Fox News, far and away the most-watched cable news channel, has stoked controversy (and higher ratings) in the first year of the Obama administration by appearing, at times, to be the network of the opposition.
In a segment cut from television, Mr. Stewart said: “Fox News used to be all about: ‘You don’t criticize a president during war time. It’s unacceptable. It’s treasonous. It’s giving aid and comfort to the enemy.’ All of a sudden, for some reason, you can run out there and say Barack Obama is destroying the fabric of this country.”
Mr. O’Reilly disagreed, saying the network had been respectful to Mr. Obama about the Afghanistan troop deployment decision.
In another segment cut from television, Mr. Stewart, asked whether he thought Fox was “set up solely to provide aid and comfort to the Republican Party and the conservative movement,” replied: “That’s right. That’s right.” Then he added, “And to make some money.”
Mr. O’Reilly said on his program on Thursday: “It was interesting to hear Mr. Stewart put forth that Fox News is in business to help Republicans. I rebutted that, and you can decide who had the stronger argument.”