Update (Ken Shepherd | May 9): Our good friend Mark Levin sent along an audio clip from his May 8 radio program wherein he addressed Jon Stewart's ludicrous comparison.You can access the audio here.
On Wednesday night’s edition of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, host Jon Stewart interviewed John McCain. As part of his ongoing outrage that the Reverend Wright issue would be raised against Barack Obama, Stewart sprung it on McCain that President Bush is his own Reverend Wright problem. He liked this “fascinating” analysis so much he repeated it, and suggested when it comes to Team Bush and al-Qaeda, “our policies are their Reverend Wright-- isn't he the guy they throw out there and inflame their base and get support? Don't you think he's actually been okay for al-Qaeda?” McCain answered by declaring the terrorists were a “transcendent evil” beyond one politician.
Stewart seemed to be citing an NBC poll (slightly wrongly) that found 32 percent of voters expressed concern about Obama’s relationship with Rev. Wright, but 43 percent were concerned by Sen. McCain’s relationship to President Bush. Stewart formulated his jokey question as if he were about to question McCain about being endorsed by harshly anti-Catholic minister John Hagee:
STEWART: You, sir, everybody knows Senator Barack Obama has a problem with the Reverend Wright issue.
STEWART: Americans, I think 35 percent said they were concerned about his relationship. You, sir, have your own person, religious -- I don’t wanna say zealot, but a religious person endorse your candidate that americans have expressed greater concern, your relationship with him -- 43 percent. Will you take the opportunity right now to repudiate and denounce...President Bush?
McCain grinned, then stood up and pretended he was going to walk out. Stewart yelled in jest “Sit down! Sit down, sir!” McCain mugged and whispered “Technical difficulties!” And then Stewart repeated himself: What do you think of that, though? More Americans are concerned about your relationship with President Bush than with Obama and Reverend Wright. Don't you find that fascinating?”
McCain grew serious and starting talking about the economy: “I think that the president’s polling numbers are obvious. I have to run my campaign and present my vision and my plan of action to help America.”
Stewart later returned to his new intellectual plaything, comparing President Bush to Reverend Wright. It came in an exchange about whether McCain would apologize for publicizing the fact that a top Hamas adviser suggested a preference for Obama (see Power Line), and suggesting he’d be like John F. Kennedy.
STEWART: There was one comment-- and this could have been taken out of context as well-- you felt that Hamas endorsed Obama? Did they officially--
McCAIN: A spokesperson from Hamas said they wanted Senator Obama, but that's-- that's --
STEWART: Do you feel bad you said that? Because that is-- if you think about it--
McCAIN: A spokesperson said that, and I think --
STEWART: And you take Hamas at their word?
McCAIN: No, but it's indicative of how some of our enemies view America. I guarantee you, they're not going to endorse me.
STEWART: : I find that interesting because don't you think that these past few years, in terms of a recruiting tool for bin Laden and al Qaeda, I mean, isn't-- al Qaeda is trying to fire up their base. Isn't President Bush kind of... and our policies are their Reverend Wright-- isn't he the guy they throw out there and inflame their base and get support? Don't you think he's actually been okay for al-Qaeda?
So in this tortured analogy, Bush isn’t just like Reverend Wright, but conservatives are like al-Qaeda, easily agitated religious zealots inflamed by empty rhetoric. Stewart clearly thinks Bush is worse than Wright, and that Bush's idiocy and military recklessness should drag down McCain.
But what about the poll that inspired Stewart's analogies? A look at the actual poll questions shows that NBC's pollsters (a Democrat and a Republican) skewed the results with loaded and differing verbiage:
Now let me read you some critical things that have been said about the candidates. For each, tell me whether this issue gives you major concerns, moderate concerns, minor concerns, or no real concerns about that candidate.
– John McCain will be too closely aligned with the Bush agenda . He has voted eighty-nine percent of the time for the Bush administration’s programs.
– It is hard to know about Barack Obama’s values because he has friends like Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Willam Ayers.
The numbers Stewart used were the ones expressing "major concern." In the McCain/Bush question, the pollsters underline why the respondents should be concerned about the closeness, citing a number compiled by Congressional Quarterly, while the Obama question offers no specifics about Wright, and suggests that relationship is a nebulous mystery, not a two-decade relationship in which Obama has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Wright's ministry. Might the numbers have been different if it had been formulated more like the McCain question, such as:
-- Barack Obama is too closely aligned with his minister, Jeremiah Wright, who believes AIDS was invented by government to kill blacks and that September 11 was a natural reaction to America's own terrorism.
That's a little loaded, too, but shouldn't "objective" network polls offer more balance in their questions?