Salon editorial fellow Aaron Kinney looks at Jon Stewart's buffeting of Christopher Hitchens on "The Daily Show."
We've criticized Jon Stewart for pulling his punches with conservative guests, but Thursday night he went straight at Christopher Hitchens, the stubbornly entrenched war hawk whose support for the Bush administration's Iraq venture has left former allies on the left in a state of disbelief.
Hitchens, who in recent weeks has viciously attacked war critics Cindy Sheehan and Joe Wilson, appeared on "The Daily Show" to promote his new book, "Thomas Jefferson." But Stewart wanted to talk about Iraq. And though Hitchens must have known that his pro-war stance would come up -- he recently told the New York Observer that his devotion to "Operation Iraqi Freedom" has caused his friends to "think that I must have "taken leave of my senses" -- he seemed a bit ill-at-ease throughout the conversation.
Hitchens defended the war by citing Saddam Hussein's violations of U.N. rules, the danger posed by his unstable regime and his ties to al-Qaida. But Stewart was having none of it. He responded nimbly, asking why the U.S. invaded Iraq when numerous other countries in the Middle East had closer ties to terrorism and more highly developed weapons of mass destruction.
Stewart defended liberals who oppose the war -- "They believe that this war is being conducted without transparency, without credibility and without competence" -- and slammed Bush for stoking liberal distrust: "He refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults, and falls back on platitudes and phrases and talking points, [which] does a disservice to the goals that he himself shares with the very people he needs to convince."
By the end, it was hard to tell whether Hitchens had enjoyed their polite round of sparring or was quietly seething. Either way, he didn't stick around for the usual post-interview pleasantries. He shook Stewart's hand, said, "It's been real," and walked off the set.