Jon Stewart presents a somewhat maddening irony in our culture. He's a comedian by trade and yet the show he hosts regularly serves as one of the most insightful, tenacious, and journalistically sound news programs on television. This may be less a commentary on Stewart himself than on the pathetic state of cable news in the new millennium, a place where Edward R. Murrow's legacy goes to die. But over and over again, Stewart has had to defend himself from those who expect too much of him simply because he happens to be one of the most trustworthy people presenting the news these days, even if he's presenting it first and foremost with the goal of making people laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Unless you're Bill O'Reilly or one of the other half-dozen Fox News hosts who suffers from a stick perpetually lodged in his ass, when The Daily Show pokes fun at you as a media personality -- or even flat-out mocks you -- you shut up and roll with it. Lashing out at Stewart is an exercise not only in futility but in staggeringly bad, even masochistic judgment. Maybe it's unfair, but Stewart's cultural cachet and the special place he holds in cable as someone who straddles the line between real journalism and comedy makes him just about bulletproof. Nobody with a high-kilowatt intellect goes after Stewart because they've felt personally insulted by something he's said about them during a bit. This probably explains why Chris Cuomo is lashing out at Stewart after a recent segment on The Daily Show that highlighted an unfortunate pun Cuomo used while discussing the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
In a "Moment of Zen" earlier in the week, Stewart featured a clip of Cuomo standing in front of the wreckage of MH17 while asking a CNN guest, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, to “shoot down” a theory about what happened to the flight. Yeah, it was an accident and nothing more. Cuomo doesn't deserve to be tortured for it -- and The Daily Show wasn't torturing him, merely pointing it out as an unintentionally comic moment. Apparently, though, Cuomo has pretty thin skin, because in an interview with the Washington Post's Erik Wemple a couple of days ago he responded to the segment by directly going after Stewart.
“I made a mistake,” says Cuomo. “In terms of who reacted to it and how, it’s strictly a case of consider the source.” Stewart is a comedian who indulges in takedowns of the mainstream media, and bloggers “are what they are — they traffic in snark and negativity,” says Cuomo. Later in the chat, Cuomo circled back to that comedian: “If it seems like I’m being disrespectful of Jon Stewart, it’s only because I am. He’s funny but he doesn’t do the job we do and he shouldn’t pretend he does.”
He may as well have lashed out at "haters" while he was at it. Regardless, Cuomo's criticism is ridiculous and smacks of pettiness and hurt feelings, which is unfortunate given that his on-the-ground coverage of MH17 has been one of the high points of his stint at CNN so far. But Cuomo's still the host of a morning show and whether he likes it or not, that's a format that's ripe for mockery because the occasions when you're reminded that the hosts are actual journalists as opposed to goofy talking heads trying not to irritate you too badly at the beginning of your day are so few and far between.
Never forget that for all his indignation and bluster over not being taken seriously, Cuomo is still a guy who literally walked along willingly as CNN introduced an embarrassing "sponsored couch" segment to his show, New Day. That actually did get a giant helping of merciless mockery from Jon Stewart and deservedly so. Maybe Cuomo's just been holding a grudge all this time. Or it could be that Stewart isn't being very kind to Cuomo's brother these days.
Either way, here's the thing: If Stewart isn't a real journalist and Cuomo is, who has more of a responsibility to behave like one rather than just "pretending?"