Disclaimer: I actually read the article. Sorry, I know we're not supposed to do that before forming an opinion.
I added some text to this image. Can you tell? (via Politico)
If you follow conservatives online, you probably noticed an unusual amount of glee percolating through your feeds and timelines this morning. Jon Stewart, TV host and bogeyman, has been outed as an Obama Mouthpiece (never mind that he's been on the air since 1999). One need look no further to prove this than the headline of today's Politico article from Darren Samuelsohn: "Jon Stewart's secret White House visits." I'm pretty positive that none of these people looked any further than that:
Because he's a Jew. So obviously, he works for our Muslim president. Duh.
Not even Drudge can muster up full red-line enthusiasm for this "scoop."
Indeed, one need look absolutely no further than the headline, because if you actually read the article, you'd end up reading an interesting article about the profound effect one satire show has had on American discourse. Even worse, you'd come away with a nuanced take on Stewart's meetings at the White House, like thinking that Jon Stewart's influence on American opinion led a sitting American president to personally try to communicate his positions to him, once during the October 2011 budget fight and once before confronting Russia over Crimea in February 2012. Gross, it's almost like that's not shocking at all.
In fact, the article makes it clear the Obama administration sought the good graces of Stewart, not the other way around:
"The 52-year-old funnyman is widely credited with changing how the government treated military veterans and Sept. 11 first responders and for canceling a hyper-partisan CNN talk show. His broadsides against President George W. Bush's Iraq war and a series of Obama missteps had a searing effect on how Americans thought about Washington.
Top Obama aides David Axelrod and Austan Goolsbee knew Stewart's voice mattered and made sure to field calls and emails from the host and Daily Show staff."
At no point in the article does Samuelsohn accuse Stewart of actually saying anything on behalf of Obama. The closest is saying that the White House "enjoyed it" that Stewart mocked Russian president Vladimir Putin after the February 2014 meeting. Listen, if Obama told Stewart "you have to mock Putin tonight," I would be very sad and disappointed. But I think we can all agree that Putin deserves a whole lot of mockery, right? Surely, all American politicians hate Putin, right?
The article does, however, include examples where the White House immediately changed positions after being criticized by Stewart, notably on veterans' affairs (which the article makes clear is one of Stewart's main passions):
In March 2009, Stewart discussed the new Obama administration's idea of removing veterans with private insurance plans from the VA rolls. “That can't be right," he intoned. The Obama White House scrapped the plan one day after his segment aired, and veterans' advocates recall Stewart's commentary being discussed during a West Wing meeting with senior aides including then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
Maybe the title of the article should have been "Jon Stewart: secret President?"
Samuelsohn goes on to discuss at length other legacies of Stewart, like getting CNN's Crossfire cancelled, educating the public (with Colbert) on campaign finance laws, focusing the recent anger after the Charleston shootings onto the Confederate flag, to the way alumni of his show have taken over TV. John McCain calls him a "modern day Will Rogers and Mark Twain." Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele (yes, the puppet one) said that The Daily Show "forced him to rethink GOP positions on a range of issues, from student debt and the job market for college graduates to gay marriage." This influence on topics such as the Confederate flag (which came down in South Carolina shortly afterwards) was not lost on the hateful commenters happy to see him exposed as a stooge:
Yes. Everyone loved these symbols until Obama came along. (via Free Republic)
But whatever, there were secret meetings. Meetings so secret, they were "listed in the White House visitor logs and confirmed to POLITICO by three former Obama aides."
This Politico scoop on Jon Stewart's secret White House visits is something else http://t.co/NLWeleMf5Z
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) July 28, 2015
I understand that not all discussion of Stewart as he departs will be positive. I don't want it to be. I thought that the coverage of Wyatt Cenac's interview with Marc Maron was also skewed, but that was an informative and revealing moment that needed to be discussed. This is turning a mild revelation into a scandalous one via clickbait. Maybe all of this has a simple explanation, and maybe that explanation is hidden in this otherwise-innocuous phrase: "Stewart, who declined to be interviewed for this article..."
RT @DavidNather: But seriously, Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow -- next time you should talk to @dsamuelsohn.
— Darren Samuelsohn (@dsamuelsohn) July 28, 2015
Seriously, who does he think he is taking audiences with Obama and not this guy?! All in all, I'd like to repeat that the article was pretty good. It does feel like Samuelsohn set out to write a longform retrospective on Stewart's influence and ended up overselling these two meetings for the purposes of clicks. He did a really good job of both: he wrote a far-reaching and impressive summary of Stewart's influence, and he also completely diminished it by handing conservatives a headline they can repeat unthinkingly for the rest of eternity to discredit any good The Daily Show did.