When Comedians Hold Journalists To Account: An Interview Analysis

This week examine how comedian and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart made controversial journalist Judith Miller, known for reporting the Iraq WMD myth, use critical-thinking to do her job .

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BAILEY T. STEEN | THURSDAY, APRIL 11, 2018

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IT’S DISCONCERTING COMEDIANS are the ones forced to hold both the politicians and the journalists to account. Around early 2015, this role of watchdog-to-power was played by Comedy Central’s former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, probing disgraced former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on the program for her role in perpetuating the WMD myth in the lead up to the Bush administration’s Iraq War.

During the exclusive two-part interview on Comedy Central, Stewart, a fierce critic of former President George W. Bush and the Iraq War, adopts an immediate contemptuous tone with his guest.

Initially, the man plays dutiful host with exchanged comments about the weather, showcasing her book cover “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey”, a memoir defending her debunked reporting on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” program, soon twisting the conversation into a respectful firing squad. Stewart trades the small-talk pleasantries for visible disdain, opening with the hilariously awkward words: “So… oh boy.”

“I believe that you helped the administration take us to, like, the most devastating mistake in foreign policy that we’ve made in, like, 100 years…” Stewart soon followed, “…but you seem lovely… why is that wrong?”

Miller, evidently, walked into the exchange in over her head. Stumbling through long-winded passages, the guest pivots to expected, “naive” talking points about how the government’s intelligence community had “never got anything wrong”, deflecting to the bipartisan support of the weapons myth in Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

“Well, it turns out idiocy is bipartisan,” Stewart jokingly rebuffed, holding her to account on whether she questioned the pro-war figures on their “concerted effort” to invade Iraq. Miller tries to have her cake and eat it too, bumbling about how she held them to account and showed two sides of the story while buying into their own framing about their supposed belief in WMDs.

Stewart, ever the prepared host, counters Miller with the Times’ lack of coverage from opposing views, namely UN nuclear expert David Albright. Despite telling the journalist he could be quoted by name as a critic of the US narrative, which Miller confirmed to be true, when pressured by the host she awkwardly revealed he was “cut for space” — saying the Times didn’t want to be known for countering the narrative.

The interview marks a significant time in history when a comedian held power in politics and the media to account, knowing “what makes journalism” more than the people whose job it is to remain sceptical.

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Thanks for reading!

Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, editor, artist and film critic based in Victoria, Australia, but is also Putin’s Puppet on occasion.

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