November 04, 2002

The premise sounds almost surreal: Invite Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” to speak with “media critic” Howard Kurtz on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a case of “Art Imitates Life.” Instead it was more like “TV Takes on Real Life,” TV in the person of Stewart and real life, if one could call it that, in the person of Kurtz. And TV won. Hands down.

Below are excerpts from the preliminary transcript of the show, which aired November 2 [Note: Section headers, in bold, are not from the transcript.]:

KURTZ: Jon Stewart, welcome.

STEWART: Thank you, sir.

[. . .]


KURTZ: You’re going to be on live election night with “Indecision 2000,” live on election night . . .

STEWART: We’re probably not going to go with 2000. We’re going to go with 2002. We’re going to stick with the year that it is now. [“Indecision 2002”]

[. . .]


KURTZ: What did you make of the sniper coverage? Were the media trying to scare people?

STEWART: I thought it was the media’s finest hour, the sniper coverage.

KURTZ: Finest hour?

STEWART: Absolutely, by watching the 24-hour news networks, I learned that the sniper was an olive-skinned, white-black male -- men -- with ties to Son of Sam, al Qaeda, and was a military kid, playing video games, white, 17, maybe 40.

KURTZ: They really nailed it, didn’t they?

STEWART: I thought they did great. And I thought it was really responsible to put them on. I thought CNN, MSNBC, FOX, did a great job putting on -- you know what they should’ve called the coverage, “You know what I heard?” and just have people randomly showing . . .

KURTZ: What should happen to all of these experts who came and filled the airwaves with all of these predictions that turned out to be completely and totally wrong?

STEWART: Well, it’s not their fault.

KURTZ: It’s not their fault?


KURTZ: Shouldn’t they have to resign from the talking head society?

STEWART: Shouldn’t CNN have to pay a penalty for putting them on the air? You’re Paulie Walnuts. You’re vouching. You brought a guy in, and you put him on the air and you vouched. You said, “No, Tony, this guy, he’s good people, he’s credible.” So whatever they say, I mean, they’re called profilers.

If you watched the coverage, you would have thought that that’s what the police do, is they literally have two guys sort of almost like psychics sitting around going, “What do you think he is?” “I don’t know, maybe he’s white, maybe he’s black. Maybe he’s with al Qaeda, maybe he’s Son of Sam.” They’re actually following real leads.

I don’t understand the idea of -- you know I heard a guy talking -- actually on your show -- saying, “Well, the public really wanted information. They had a real thirst for information. So because we didn’t really have that much information, we had to just speculate.”

KURTZ: We made it up.

STEWART: Right. Which seems insane. That’s like saying, “You know, the kids were real thirsty, and we didn’t have any water, so we just gave them beer, because we figured that would work.”

KURTZ: Well, you’re right. The cable folks who put these folks in front of the camera have to bear some of the responsibility.

STEWART: Not some, all.

KURTZ: All right.

STEWART: Not some. They bear all of the responsibility. You cannot -- I’m not even sure what the reasoning was behind just putting people on who didn’t know anything.

I mean, you know what was my favorite part was the hand wringing. People would do this, “Now, I know that we’re not supposed to speculate, you know, obviously, people are nervous and it would be irresponsible to inflame passions by speculating . . . Seriously, though, do you think it’s terrorism?” . . .

Unless you know the guy’s name, don’t say anything. Unless you have information, rather than speculating -- unless you could say, like, “Oh, the sniper? Yes, it’s John Muhammad, I think.” Unless you know that, shut up, say nothing.

[. . .]


KURTZ: You’re not a news junkie?

STEWART: No, honestly, I leave probably CNN on mostly all the time. Although the networks are not really meant to be watched all the time, which I realize now.

KURTZ: When did this come to you?

STEWART: As I was pulling my hair out! . . . Watching the same footage over and over again of nothing.

But I do keep CNN -- I mean, Fox, let’s face facts, is a relatively cynical undertaking, to begin with.

KURTZ: Because?

STEWART: Well, it’s basically, it’s taken the AM-radio mentality and labeled it fair and balanced just to upset you guys.

KURTZ: A lot of people watch.

STEWART: Of course, a lot of people watch. A lot of people watch wrestling. A lot of people watch -- you know, you could put on porn, and I think a lot of people would watch it.

But I think they call it fair and balanced just as kind of a dig. I mean, it’s not. It’s clearly meant to be more ideological and more opinion-based. They took the paradigm of AM radio. By the way, I enjoy what those guys do. I find it fun to watch. It’s just not a news network. . . .

But the thing about CNN is, you guys actually say you can depend on CNN. That’s why I’m more upset with you than I am with them.

KURTZ: You hold CNN to a higher standard.

STEWART: Exactly. I expect that from [Fox]. From you guys, I’m upset -- what I don’t understand is why you guys, with the talent and the credibility, would want to take a page out of their playbook. . . . Why would you go louder when you could go smarter?

[. . .]


KURTZ: I have a theory about this, which is, you’ve been doing this for so long, to sit in front of the big anchor desk.


KURTZ: But you’ve come to think that, “Well, gee, maybe I am kind of a journalist. I can do this.”


KURTZ: “I could host ‘Crossfire.’”

STEWART: Well, yes, you could host “Crossfire.” What’s that got to do with journalism? I mean, that’s just a couple of knuckleheads. The promo for that is Bob Novak in a boxing outfit. For God’s sake, somehow I don’t imagine Edward R. Murrow ever putting on the satin robe and going, “I’ll destroy you.”

[. . .]


KURTZ: I went to one of your tapings this week.

STEWART: Yes, you did.

KURTZ: And I can reveal -- can I say this?

STEWART: By the way, I didn’t care for the heckling.

KURTZ: All right. I can reveal that all those -- you go to those live correspondent reports standing in front of the capitol, out in North Carolina.

STEWART: That’s exactly right.

KURTZ: They’re right on the stage there with you.


KURTZ: Isn’t that kind of dishonest?

STEWART: Our budget is to the point where we can only afford the picture of North Carolina. We can’t actually afford the trip. So we put them in front of a just a green screen of that.

KURTZ: So you don’t, you’re not confusing yourself with a quote, “real journalist”?

STEWART: No. You guys are . . .

KURTZ: You’re just making fun . . .

STEWART: You guys are confusing yourselves with real journalists. . . . Instead of putting on shows like “Crossfire” and “Gotcha” and “I’m Going To Kick Your Ass With Tucker Carlson” and “Let’s Beat Up The Short Guy.” That was just one that I . . .

KURTZ: I’m glad you’re at least watching so much CNN, Jon.

STEWART: I am watching it constantly. It’s driving me insane. Make the ticker stop. You’re in the middle of a damn sniper story, and all of a sudden underneath it, you know, “Liza Minnelli’s first VH1 show to air.”


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