jon stewart gaza

Anonymous Daily Show staffer subliminally injects context into the show’s Middle East coverage

Jon Stewart couldn’t get wait to get back from his 4th of July vacation and discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; the unfolding debacle was featured heavily in his very first segment the Monday of his return, (500) Crazies of Summer.

You’ve probably seen the segment by now. You’ve probably even seen some of the criticism it’s attracted. You might have even stuck around long enough on Tuesday night’s The Daily Show to watch Hillary Rodham Clinton tell Jon why she thinks his understanding of the conflict is skewed (here and here).

But even if I hadn’t directed you to those pieces of criticism, you probably could have just watched the clip yourself and had no trouble arriving at the conclusion that Stewart’s analysis of the current situation was largely facile and pointless. Essentially it boiled down to this: Israel has bigger guns.

Thank you, Mr. Leibowitz, for the nuanced update.

Though I don’t agree with everything Horovitz had to say about the segment (in “some of the criticism” above), there was one paragraph fragment that stood out to me as undeniably true and to the point:

First up, he’s begun with talk of Israel being set to invade Gaza, but without any cited reason — such as, say, Hamas being a terrorist organization with a notorious track record of suicide bombings, individual killings, kidnappings, and incessant rocket fire.

In short, Stewart’s facile (did I use that adjective already? oh well) analysis manages to avoid inconveniently dragging context into the picture. Sure, he could have talked about how the combatants arrived at this point — whether you think Israelis or Palestinians or some combination thereof are to blame — but that level of nuance would have seriously undermined his carefully-constructed David v. Goliath narrative.

Because Horovitz already did it, I don’t feel the need to deconstruct Stewart’s monologue line-by-line. That said, I would like to share the most potent symbol of Stewart’s willful ignorance, which you may have missed if you only watched the segment on Israel and Gaza rather than imbibing the episode from start to finish.

In the segment immediately following (500) Crazies of Summer, Stewart turned his righteous anger toward the Supreme Court for its Hobby Lobby decision. A worthwhile target, to be sure. But that’s not what grabbed my attention.

To introduce the bit, the Daily Show host shared some background narration by Brian Williams, host of NBC Nightly News and father of Marnie:

Brian Williams on Daily Show Hobby Lobby

Looks about right to me: Williams, backed by an image of the Supreme Court captioned CONTROVERSIAL RULING, while talking about a controversial Supreme Court ruling. So far so good.

But blink and you already missed it. In the fraction of a second before those beautiful Corinthian columns materialized on-screen, Williams was backed by a different image entirely (I left the progress bars visible in both screenshots so you can verify the sequence, but you are of course free to just watch the clip for yourself), a vestigial remnant of his own previous segment:

Brian Williams on Daily Show Teens Killed

Just to be clear about what I just showed you, both programs transitioned from the Middle East directly to Hobby Lobby, but only one managed to explore anything of the larger context. I guess this is why old people say it’s probably not good that we young people get our news and information from Stewart and Colbert and now Oliver.

More to the point, Naftali Fraenkel’s (z”l) first appearance on The Daily Show appears to have come well over a month after his kidnapping — approximately two weeks after news of his cold-blooded murder kicked off the latest round of violent recriminations — just moments after Jon Stewart covered precisely this current round of violence — and even then, only for a moment as the result of what can best be described as a minor editing glitch. Thanks again for the update, Mr. Leibowitz (did I use this already, too?).

There is, of course, a perfectly reasonable explanation for what otherwise strikes me as (at best) gross incompetence from a host I generally trust to provide an intelligent and incisive take on political debates and other current events, so bear with me. Perhaps Naftali’s cameo was not a mistake at all. Someone, somewhere in The Daily Show cutting room, made the conscious decision to let Brian Williams appear on-screen just a fraction of a second too early. Perhaps we’re talking about an anonymous editor frustrated by his employer’s stubborn insistence to cover the conflict in the most facile (there it is again!) way imaginable, who took it upon his or herself to acknowledge that there’s more to what goes on in the Middle East than what happened yesterday. Or maybe — and I recognize this is just wishful thinking — the image was allowed to briefly persist at the directive of the show’s ashamed host himself. We may never know.

Listen, I understand that it’s not Stewart’s job to put everything in context. He’s a comedian, not a reporter. That said, people are dying — and this facile (whoops) treatment of the situation? Definitely not helping.

May the anonymous hero enjoy a long, healthy and prosperous career, amen.

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