Jon Stewart Defends Wanda Sykes Venom -- With Weird Comparisons to Waterboarding

On Monday night’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart warmly recalled Stephen Colbert having the "titanium balls" to mock President Bush at the White House correspondents dinner in 2006. Predictably, he also came to the defense of Wanda Sykes for going soft on Obama and wishing Rush Limbaugh dead at this year's dinner. Stewart played both of the nasty Sykes jokes, and then made fun of Bill Bennett for objecting on CNN, joking about how Bennett referred to his wife in the third person. Then Stewart bizarrely compared Sykes jokes to waterboarding:

STEWART: So sometimes comedians are so offensive that Bill Bennett and his lovely wife Elaine Bennett have to leave the room because offensive jokes are not a hallmark of good decent society. They are over the line. By the way, what is waterboarding? Is that over the line.

BENNETT: [Graphic: April 23] These were serious measures. This is not torture. These were serious measures. [Graphic: May 10] I don't care if you do call it torture.

STEWART: Bad jokes, and gay marriage are destroying this country – but torture can save it.

Stewart followed that up by extending the very mixed-up metaphor, as his staffer John Oliver played with conservative lines on waterboarding: that the Sykes jokes were essential at the time, and "20/20 hindsight" can’t correct them.

Obviously, Stewart the Moralist is trying to keep the comedic water torture always firmly placed on Team Bush. He’s pretending for laughs that Bill Bennett is more offended by harmless jokes than by torture. Jon Stewart favors abortion rights. So is it funny that he’s opposed to Rush Limbaugh’s humor but not abortion?

All Stewart’s really doing is trying to change the subject for his liberal-comedian friends: pay no attention to the enormous double standard in front of the Washington press-party curtain. Colbert can mock conservative presidents as idiots, and Sykes can wish Limbaugh would die, interrupted only by repeatedly calling Obama "sir." Jon Stewart isn’t much of a wizard at changing the subject.

Let’s put Stewart’s satire in some context. On Sunday’s State of the Union, Bennett denounced Sykes for wishing Limbaugh would die and pressed Donna Brazile to join him, which she repeatedly failed to do.

JOHN KING: You two politely debate the issues here all the time. You both always say let's not keep it personal. Rush is fair game. He's in this debate. He pokes fun at people. Was that over the line?

BRAZILE: No. It was funny. She thought it was funny. Some people thought it was funny. Some people did not think it was funny. So, I'm not going to debate whether or not a comedian said something over the line. She'll be criticizing me tomorrow. I'm leaving it alone.

BENNETT: Way over the line. I hope he fails was the next line, I hope his kidneys fail. What the hell is that? Can we -- I understand the dislike of Rush, the disapproval of Rush by liberals. But can we at least put some decency in our remarks? Michael Savage was criticized rightly for saying to a gay caller, I hope you die. You do not talk about people like that. You never talk about people like that. She was way over the line. This is why Elaine Bennett and I did not go to this dinner. We went twice and twice we had to leave because of remarks by comedians.

I'm for vigorous debate and exchange, but I don't care who you're talking about, and there are people I strongly dislike in this world, you don't go beyond decency and she went way beyond that. "I hope his kidneys fail." Come on.

BRAZILE: She was ...

BENNETT: Joking.

BRAZILE: ... trying to make fun of somebody who makes fun of everybody, Bill.

BENNETT: I understand that.

BRAZILE: He has said some things, Bill, I tell you, I won't repeat because Rush Limbaugh, he has -- he gives everybody the blues, including many Republicans.

BENNETT: He has said things in the past for which I have criticized him. But when it gets to the point liberals will not criticize their own when they step over the line, then they're out there way over the line.

BRAZILE: We criticize our own. We're not perfect.

BENNETT: I'd like to hear somebody step up on this one.

BRAZILE: What's the point?

BENNETT: What's the point? Just say that's too much.

BRAZILE: What's the point? She is an entertainer.

BENNETT: So is Rush an entertainer but you're happy to criticize him.

BRAZILE: Of course.

BENNETT: What would have been too far? What would Wanda have said that would have offended you, anything?

BRAZILE: Of course. Of course.

BENNETT: Like what? She said I hope he dies.

BRAZILE: No.

BENNETT: I hope his kidneys fail.

BRAZILE: No. She was making fun of Rush Limbaugh and Rush Limbaugh makes fun of everybody else.

BENNETT: I'm sorry, I know what it means to be made fun of and I know what it means for someone to say I hope you die.

The statement Stewart used from Bennett saying "I don’t care if you do call it torture" was wrongly dated as May 10. Bennett actually said that on the April 19 State of the Union. Here it is, in greater context:

BENNETT: You're damn right this stuff works. That challenge has been put out there. This is information that we got Abu Zubaydah, from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that kept American cities and American people from being hurt.

Now, I don't think it's torture, but I don't care if you do call it torture. And by the way, the president of the United States still has within his power the ability to do this.

Now, these -- these efforts to distance themselves from the Bush administration, I understand. All administrations do this. But when they start getting to the point where they start endangering our national security and saying, we're just going to leak everything, that's too far.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis