Jon Stewart Pitches Softballs to Bill Clinton: Is Private Life ‘Fun?’

September 19th, 2006 4:19 PM

Comedy Central host Jon Stewart, well known for slamming conservatives, talked last night with former President Clinton and proceeded to offer him non-stop softball questions. The ex-President plugged his new Clinton Global Initiative program to fight poverty, global warming and support racial reconciliation. (Stewart did not press as to what specifically the project will do.) The tenor of the comedian’s questions can be summed up in this query on what makes Clinton happy:

Stewart: "All right, so what, in your mind, you’ve worked, you’ve worked in government for most of your career. Now you are out and doing private initiatives, these types of things. What’s more effective? What are you having more fun doing and what do you think is more effective?"

Yes, that’s right. Jon Stewart asked the former President what he found "fun," political or private life? It became clear, very early in the program, just how the talk show host differentiated between George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Stewart: "We got a fine program for you tonight Former president Bill Clinton will be sitting down with us today. And uh, I'll ask him probably questions about the political climate and the complex issues, and he will be like [high pitched, hysterical voice], duh, I don't know. Oh, no, wait. That's, uh, oh, right, no, this is President Clinton."

Now, some may wonder why it matters what Stewart asks? After all, he’s "only a comedian." The answer to this comes from a flattering statement Bill Clinton made during the interview. He told the Comedy Central host, "My daughter says [‘The Daily Show’] is the new source of choice now for all discerning young people." Regardless of whether or not this is totally accurate, similar pronouncements have been repeated in the mainstream media. Therefore, it’s important how Jon Stewart frames political debates and what questions he asks or doesn’t ask.

On the issue of not asking questions, during the segment, which aired at 11:14PM EDT on September 19, Stewart failed to mention the controversial ABC miniseries "Path to 9/11." President Clinton has been vocally critical of the film so it’s odd that Mr. Stewart would fail to bring it up. In addition to asking lightweight questions, the comedian also allowed the former President to get away with completely self-serving answers. Take this exchange on post-presidential activities:

Stewart: " Once you remove politics, do you suddenly think to yourself, boy, that, that, that veil prevented us from doing so many of the things we wanted to do, going back, would you change the way that you approach politics?"

Clinton: "I don’t know that I could have, because I actually, like when I was governor, my vote and support went up among Republicans every year I was governor, every election, because I did reach out. When I was president, I tried to do it and they had a different view. They believed that they could win by polarizing. That was Newt Gingrich's theory and it was the White House’s, this White House’s theory."

Put aside the fact that Jon Stewart essentially asked, "Can’t we all just get along?" A more important issue is the fact that he allowed Clinton to assert that he tried to reach out, but those dastardly Republicans just wouldn’t take the olive branch At this point Stewart could have mentioned that polarization is part of politics, that’s how you define yourself against your opponent. He could have mentioned that Democrats attempt to polarize the elderly over the issue of Social Security, or assert that Republicans don’t have the interests of minorities at heart. But Stewart didn’t do that, he simply let the comment go and made a crack about President Bush. Additionally, the comedian let this self-aggrandizing comment get through too:

Clinton: " I think I’ll have to live a long time before I can do as much good as a former president as I did as president."

He also playfully began the interview by stating, "Sir, people are crazy about your global initiative."

The interview concluded with a new "Daily Show" segment called "Seat of Heat." This is supposed to be a tough, challenging question that makes the guest squirm, in a funny way, one assumes. Here’s the hard-hitting Stewart query:

Stewart: "Mr. President, Hillary Clinton may be running for president. If so, what is the key to defeating her?...Is she running for president?"

It should also be noted that this is not the first ingratiating, sycophantic interview Jon Stewart engaged in with a major Democrat. On August 24, 2004, he interviewed then-presidential candidate Senator John Kerry and famously asked him, "How are you holding up?" Kerry later offered to "do the inauguration here, too." Mr. Stewart replied, "I have no problem with that." Subsequently, this conversation between Stewart and Kerry represented the limit to which the comedian is willing to press Democrats:

Stewart: "Please refute if you will. Are you the number one most liberal senator in the Senate?"

Kerry: "No."

Stewart: "Okay."

Kerry: "You happy with that?"

Stewart: "Yeah, I'm pretty happy with that. 'Cause that-- I-- I'm gonna say-- there-- there's-- I'm just gonna go on the talking points that I've been given."

In fact, "National Journal" did rate Kerry as the most liberal senator in 2003, but the Comedy Central host declined to discuss the issue further.

The liberal media has bestowed on Jon Stewart the role of ombudsman and watchdog. However, when it comes to powerful Democrats it seems that all he can ask are challenging questions such as "How are you holding up?" and "What are you having more fun doing?" Do those queries sound like the words of a cynical, take-on-both-sides humorist or that of someone with a decidely one-sided agenda?