Did Jon Stewart roll over for Rick Santorum? Readers weigh in; Farhad Manjoo responds.

Published July 27, 2005 8:00AM (EDT)

[Read "Jon Stewart Hearts Rick Santorum" in War Room.]

My friend and I tuned in to Monday night's "Daily Show" with anticipation, expecting to see Santorum get shellacked by Stewart's left-leaning satirical wit. We watched with increasing irritation as Santorum put Stewart in a verbal headlock and took his time on the "Daily Show" to give an extended whitewash of his bigoted views. It was surreal to see this normally left-leaning outlet become a soapbox for the "family values" folks. It was even more surreal to see Stewart quail before Santorum's "I'm such a nice guy" act. Stewart hardly got a word in edgewise! He is usually so good at calling people on their bullshit. Why didn't he do it with Santorum? We were left wondering if his hands were tied.

Stewart works well in his interviews when he can play off the invisible third party of his rowdy audience -- but they were so quiet, it seemed like they had been told to be "respectful."

I hope our beloved "Daily Show" has not fallen victim to the forces of fair and balanced equal time crossfire talk news nonsense. How ironic would that be?

-- Jennifer Heisler

I have been reading Salon for a while now, and I have found it to be a good source of information, but today was the first time I was truly disappointed. When I read the "Jon Stewart Hearts Rick Santorum" article I was frankly amazed.

Jon Stewart is not a journalist; he is a comedian. It is neither his responsibility nor his job to ask the tough questions. He is paid to entertain. It is your job to get these "leaders of our nation" into a corner and ask the tough questions.

As far as I am concerned, this sounded like a cop-out on your part. You are better than this.

-- Giorgio V. Leon-Guerrero

I am second to no one in my admiration of Jon Stewart, but this is the second time in a week that he has punted an interview with a wingnut. Last week he let Bernie Goldberg walk unscathed, and this week it was Santorum. I find this much more distressing than seeing Hillary Clinton take a centrist position.

-- Carl Sacks

As a big fan of the "Daily Show," I was hoping to see Stewart rip into Santorum and tear him to pieces in front of millions of people, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. It should be clear by now that while "The Daily Show" is certainly subversive, it's not meant to be confrontational. Just funny. Stewart has used kid gloves with many, many guests whom he nevertheless uses as the butt of jokes. And, as much as I want to see him tear into them, as much as I want to see a repeat of his performance on "Crossfire," I'm glad that Jon Stewart doesn't do that. There is enough bickering on TV these days.

Moreover, I get the sense that Stewart knows which guests he can have intelligent, reasoned conversations with and which ones he can't. Rick Santorum has proved time and again to be an ideologue who cannot be reasoned with. His blind faith and bigotry prevent him from listening. That Jon Stewart didn't engage someone like that only proves how much smarter he is than anyone else on TV. Except Winnie Cooper.

-- Jason Davidson

Yes, Stewart gave Rick Santorum a bit of a walk. And gave Kerry a bit of a walk also. But how do you think he manages to get these idiots to appear? If he were an "in-your-face" liberal reporter, people like Santorum wouldn't come on the show. But somehow Stewart managed to get Santorum to admit that "homosexuals can be virtuous people." Now it is time for the mainstream media to remind Mr. Santorum of what he said. Salon should spend more of its energy mocking the hypocrisy of that statement, rather than worrying about Comedy Central's free ride for senators.

-- Cliff Cowperthwait

Sen. Santorum didn't look like the conservative sociopath that he is, but he was given enough rope to hang himself. Which he did with considerable glee. If you thought, even for a minute, about what he was saying, it was clear that intolerance is a way of life for this guy.

Plus, you're getting up Jon Stewart's ass about being too soft? Where's your lobbying group to get CNN to grow some spine? What about the face-to-face questions you've asked the president about WMD?

Armchair quarterbacking is fine. But remember what you're talking about before you go spouting off that a guy who's got a job on Comedy Central isn't "newsy" enough for you.

This is not a candy-ass defense of Jon Stewart, either. That this is even an issue is a profound insult to every news network out there. In the words of a seriously softball questioner, they're the ones "hurting America."

-- Aaron Drucker

Lighten up. "The Daily Show" is a comedy show. I thought Jon Stewart held his own with Santorum given that the point of his show and brief interviews is entertainment, not baiting politicians. He made it clear by his comments and questions that he was on a different wavelength than Santorum, but you don't invite guests on a comedy program and then bash them as homophobes. I agree that Jon is about the smartest guy on TV and a master of satire. That's where he does his real skewering. But how do you beat up on a jerk like Santorum and still be "nice" and "entertaining" and get a few laughs? I don't think humiliating a guest, even Rick Santorum, is what Jon Stewart is about. You are criticizing him on unfair grounds. By the way, I'm a big 76-year-old fan of "The Daily Show"!

-- David Cook

Farhad Manjoo responds:

I agree with folks who say that it's the news media's job to grill Rick Santorum, and it's a sorry thing to expect a comedian to be tough on a politician because cable anchors are not. Yet that's the world we live in. We live in a world where cable news is awful and where Jon Stewart points that out. So when Stewart gets a fellow like Santorum on his show he's supposed to be different from cable news. He's supposed to talk to the guy in a way that doesn't make you suspect the whole thing's a sham. And he didn't do that.

If all you knew about Santorum was what you saw on Stewart's show, you would think the senator is reasonable. But he's not. He believes homosexuals are "virtuous" as long as they don't have sex. He once said that if the Supreme Court barred the criminalization of private, consensual gay sex, it wouldn't be long before incest and bestiality would run rampant. With as much good humor as he could muster, Stewart ought to have told his audience about that.

Many, many Salon readers wrote to say that picking on Santorum is not Stewart's job. Stewart's a comedian. His job is to be funny. But here's the thing: Stewart's interview with Santorum wasn't funny. It's not as if Stewart was giving Santorum a pass on his extremist views in order to make fun of the guy; he didn't make Santorum the butt of any jokes. Wouldn't it have been funnier if, during the interview, Stewart had asked Sanotrum about the time he compared homosexuality to "man on dog" love?

Instead of funny, Stewart was trying to be earnest, to really understand why Santorum sees the world in the odd way he does. But if you've got 12 minutes on television, that's not the approach to take with a bigot; you run the risk of letting him look rational, which Santorum is not. If Stewart is neither funny nor tough when he interviews politicians like Santorum, why does he bring them on his show? What are we supposed to learn from such segments? The other night, all we learned about Rick Santorum was that his book is now on sale.

By Salon Staff

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