Bill Moyers/John Stewart Interview



BILL MOYERS: Jon Stewart Conformed When future historians come to write the political story of our times, they will first have to review hundreds of hours of a Cable television program called, THE DAILY SHOW. You simply can't understand American politics in the new millennium without THE DAILY SHOW.

For example, if you're my age, you no doubt remember the Lincoln-Douglas Debates as the epiphany of political discourse. If you're a little younger, you were taught to study the Kennedy-Nixon debates for their revelation of strong opinions, strongly expressed.

But, Lincoln-Douglas, Kennedy-Nixon are nothing compared to a debate conducted recently on THE DAILY SHOW. Moderated not by Public Television's Jim Lehrer, but by a man many consider to be the preeminent political analyst of our time. The distinguished commentator and anchorman, Jon Stewart. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Stewart: We're gonna have an honest, open debate between the President of the United States and the one man that we believe has the insight and the cahonas to stand up to him. So tonight, joining us first, George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States. Welcome, Mr. President Bush.

Bush: Good evening, I'm pleased to take your questions tonight.

Stewart: Oh, thank you very much, sir. I'm pleased to have you. Taking the other side is Year 2000 Texas Governor and presidential candidate George W. Bush. Mr. President, you won the coin toss. The first question will go to you.

Why is the United States of America using its power to change governments in foreign countries?

Bush: We must stand up for our security and for the permanent rights and hopes of mankind. The United States will make that stand.

Stewart: Well, certainly that represents a bold new doctrine in foreign policy. Governor Bush, do you agree with that?

Bush: Yeah, I'm not so sure that the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, This is the way it's gotta be. (laughter and cheers)

Stewart: Well, that's a difference of opinion, and certainly that's what this country is about. Differences of opinion. Mr. President, let me get specific. Why are in Iraq?

Bush: We will be umm, changing the regime of Iraq for the good of the Iraqi people.

Stewart: Governor, I'd like to get your response on that.

Bush: If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. I think one way for us to be viewed as the ugly American is to go around the world saying we do it this way, so should you. I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building.

BILL MOYERS: The masterful moderator of that demonstration of man's ability to hold two contradictory opinions is with me now. Jon Stewart has anchored Comedy Central's THE DAILY SHOW for four-and-a-half-years. A compendium of news, interviews and features, held up to a fractured mirror to reveal a greater truth. THE DAILY SHOW is many things, but most important, and simply, it is very smart and very funny. Welcome to NOW.

JON STEWART: Thank you very much. It's nice to be here.

BILL MOYERS: I do not know-- I have a confession.

JON STEWART: Alright.

BILL MOYERS: I do not know whether you are practicing a old form of parody and satire.

JON STEWART: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

BILL MOYERS: Or a new form of journalism. (LAUGHTER)

JON STEWART: Well then that either speaks to the sad state of comedy or the sad state of news. I can't figure out which one. I think, honestly, we're-- practicing a new form of desperation. (LAUGHTER) Where we just-- are so inundated with-- mixed messages from the media and from politicians that we're just trying to sort it out for ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: What the--

JON STEWART: The show's a selfish pursuit.

BILL MOYERS: What do you see that we journalists don't see?

JON STEWART: -- I think we see exactly what you do see. And-- but for some reason-- don't analyze it in that manner or put it on the air in that manner. I can't tell ya how many times we'll run into a journalist and go, boy that's-- I wish we could be saying that. That's exactly the way we see it and that's exactly the way we'd like to be saying that. And I always think, well, why don't you?

BILL MOYERS: But when I report the news--

JON STEWART: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

BILL MOYERS: -- on this broadcast.

JON STEWART: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: People say I'm making it up. When you make it up--

JON STEWART: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

BILL MOYERS: -- they say you're telling the truth.

JON STEWART: Yes. Exactly. It's funny. I was talking with Jayson Blair about this.

BILL MOYERS: He's our next guest.

JON STEWART: Is he really?

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. We use him as a kind of analyst of--

JON STEWART: Does he come in disguise?

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JON STEWART: For me it was just exciting to see fake news catching on like that. We don't-- you know it's-- it's interesting. I think we don't make things up. We just distill it to, hopefully, its' most-- humorous nugget. And- in that sense it seems faked and skewed just because we don't have to-- be subjective or pretend to be-- objective. We can just put it out there.

BILL MOYERS: You certainly see journalists in a way we don't see ourselves. One of my favorite--

JON STEWART: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

BILL MOYERS: -- sketches of all time is about your far-flung correspondent whom you have now flung into Baghdad. Take a look at this.

JON STEWART: Yes.

VIDEO CLIP:

Stewart: Word here is that the attack will actually come in the form of a full blown assault on the city of Baghdad itself, a massive overwhelming strike that will instantly cripple the Iraqi infrastructure.

Correspondent: Really? (laughter) I did not know that. (laughter)

Stewart: Many of your colleagues have already fled the city and the country in anticipation of an immediate attack. Some believe it could be a matter of hours.

Correspondent: It would've uh- would've been nice for one of my colleagues to fill me in about that. Left a message on my voicemail perhaps. (laughter)

Stewart: Steve, please, while you're there, tell us. Bush is still offering the option of exile for Saddam. Now, is that a possibility, or is Saddam going to hold firm on this.

Correspondent: Well, John , the possibility of Saddam accepting exile is unlikely given his defiance and his continued hope that the Arab world will united behind him.

Stewart: Steve, what about the long-term damage to some of our key European relationships?

Correspondent: Will you hold on one second. Are you kidding me? I asked for Pepperjack Ranch, this is vinaigrette. And if this a sour dough roll, than I'm Walter Cronkite. Thank you.

END VIDEO CLIP:

BILL MOYERS: Where do you get these guys?

JON STEWART: These guys are very talented improv comedians and actors and-- writers. And we get lucky enough to cast a net and catch some of 'em to come over and work for us. And they're a tremendous troop of guys.

BILL MOYERS: Which is funnier? CROSSFIRE or HARD BALL?

JON STEWART: CROSSFIRE or HARD BALL? Which is funnier? Which is more soul-crushing, you mean? Both are equally dispiriting in their -- the whole idea that political discourse has degenerated into shows that have to be entitled Crossfire and Hard Ball. And you know I'm gonna beat your ass or whatever they're calling them these days is-- mind-boggling.

Crossfire, especially, is completely an apropos name. It's what innocent bystanders are caught in when gangs are fighting. And-- it just boggles my mind that that's given a half hour, an hour a day to-- I don't understand how issues can be dissented-- from the left and from the right as though-- even cartoon characters have more than left and right. They have up and down.

I mean how- it's so two-dimensional to-- think that any analysis can come from-- it's the left and it's the right and-- well, we've had that discussion and that's done.

BILL MOYERS: You don't think of yourself as a social critic, do you?

JON STEWART: Social critic. No.

BILL MOYERS: Media critic?

JON STEWART: No.

BILL MOYERS: You don't?

JON STEWART: I think of myself as a comedian-- who has the pleasure of-- writing jokes about things that I actually care about. And that's really it. You know if I-- if I really wanted to enact social change, I have great respect for people who are in the front lines and the trenches of trying to enact social change. I am far lazier than that.

I am a tiny, neurotic man, standing in the back of the room throwing tomatoes at the chalk board. And that's really it. And-- what we do is we come in in the morning and we go, did you see that thing last night?! Ug. And then we spend the next 8 or 9 hours trying to take this and make it into something funny.

BILL MOYERS: You mean something like this. Friday, front page headline: Wars Cost Bring Democratic Anger. I mean these are the guys who voted for the war.

JON STEWART: You don't want to get the Democrats angry, because then they'll maybe meet in private. (LAUGHTER) And you don't want that. If that's what it takes to get the Democrats angry, I feel badly for the Democrats right now. This is-- Bush has raised $200 million. I mean he's gonna raise $200 million. And he's gonna need all of that money to defeat this Democratic field. This is a rough.

I mean, think about it, you've got Senator Kerry whose like Gore but without you know all the charisma. And-- then you've got Lieberman, who is for the war. And-- thinks the tax cuts could really help. He's basically-- for people who want to vote for Bush but don't think Bush is Jewish enough.

Then you have Dean whose raised a tremendous amount of money. Yet most people in America think he's the sausage guy. It's gonna be tough for Bush to defeat any of these guys.

BILL MOYERS: Let's take a look at a recent clip about Dean on your show.

JON STEWART: Alright. VIDEO CLIP:

Stewart: Speaking of the Democratic contenders, and someone's got to. Vermont Governor Howard Dean recently became the first to release a campaign ad.

Dean: I'm Howard Dean. It's time for the truth because the truth is that George Bush's foreign policy isn't making us safer. Stewart: Wow, if you listen closely you can almost hear Al Gore saying, "Dude, Loosen up." (laughter) Dean: I believe it's time to put Americans back to work, to provide health insurance for every American. It's time for Democrats to be Democrats again. That's why I'm running for President. And that's why I approved this message. Stewart: That's why I approved this message?! Alright! A can-do guy who's in charge of the things that comes out of his own mouth!

JON STEWART: I'm looking forward to Dean as President. We haven't had a President whose neck is larger than his head in a long time. And it's time that changed.

BILL MOYERS: Is that a healthy criteria for voting?

JON STEWART: It's a very healthy criterion for voting. To be fair, him saying, that's why I approved that message, is based on the new campaign laws. So.

BILL MOYERS: You have to say at the end, I paid for this message.

JON STEWART: I paid for this message. Exactly. I don't know that you actually have to say, I approved this message. I think, if you're in the message, it's sort of stands to reason that you might have approved it.

BILL MOYERS: Which have been the best years for you? The Clinton years or the Bush years?

JON STEWART: Both were vexing but in somewhat different ways. I feel like the Clinton years were-- and by the way, when you say great years, I feel awful about that because it does--

BILL MOYERS: Best years. The funniest years.

JON STEWART: Funniest years is different. Because you do feel a little bit like, I don't know if you-- if you play Craps. Have you ever been to Vegas with William Bennett. But-- if you roll Craps there's -- you can bet with the line or against the line. If you bet with the line you're sort of betting with the table for everybody to do well. Or you can bet against the line. If a guy craps out, then you do well.

That's what it's like to be a comedian. You basically stand and stare at the world and hope it craps out cause that's a good year for you. So that-- that's not a pleasant feeling. But the Clinton years were vexing in this idea that, here's someone who stands for-- values and interests that I think-- that I would hold dear. And yet, throws it all away on appetites he can't control. And that's upsetting.

These years are upsetting because I feel like we're being gas lit as a country in that what we see going on is just being described as the opposite but relentlessly by-- you know the administration. So it's a different-- it's a different problem.

BILL MOYERS: And what is the media doing to help us sort us out?

JON STEWART: Oh. they're not. Yeah, no. That's-- yeah, they sat this one out. Yeah, they're not-- they're not getting involved. It's very tiring. And they have weather reports to give. Nah, the media is not interested in-- fairness. The media is-- look politicians have figured out the media. Let's face facts. When-- when television first appeared it proved itself to be a vital insight into the process.

Nixon-- you mentioned the Nixon-Kennedy debates. It was-- At that point, politicians didn't know how to handle the media. So Nixon could say, I look fine. I don't need make-up. These lights won't make me sweat. I'm sure I'll come off as calm and collected and eloquent.

And then, as he was sweating and looked you know maniacal, he ended up losing. Well, at this point-- so at that point television was ahead of the game. Politicians have caught up. They understand that 24-hour news networks? They don't have time for journalism. They only have time for reporting. They only have time to be handed things and go, this is what I've just been handed by the administration. And they read it.

So now that the administration knows that, and they're very disciplined, they can manipulate what goes on the air and what sets the agenda. And-- and that's what they do.

BILL MOYERS: You were the first to call attention, if I remember correctly, to the fact that the war in Iraq was over as far as the media were concerned. Let's take a look at this clip.

VIDEO CLIP:

JON STEWART: What could it be? All that fanfare. I know the president is in the Middle East trying to jump start the peace process. Or they finally found those weapons of mass destruction we've heard so much about.

Commentator: Martha Stewart has been indicted.

Commentator: Nine count indictment

Commentator: Martha Stewart has taken the walk into the Federal Courthouse

Commentator: But it certainly is a tragedy

Commentator: 10 years jail-time

Commentator: Bear with me here, because it's a pretty lengthy indictment

Commentator: Martha Stewart knew what she was doing was wrong.

Commentator: After terrorism this is the number two priority for the Justice Department.

JON STEWART: Yes! Finally captured Martha Stewart. You know, with all the massive and almost completely unpunished fraud perpetrated on the American public by such companies as Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco and Adelphia, we finally got the ringleader. Maybe now we can lower the nation's terror alert to periwinkle.

BILL MOYERS: The war is over.

JON STEWART: It's over baby. We're back to the business of scandal mongering.

BILL MOYERS: THE WASHINGTON POST said, since the first of the year--

JON STEWART: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

BILL MOYERS: -- the Laci Petersen case has been featured 79 times.

JON STEWART: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

BILL MOYERS: On Greta van Susteren's evening program on FOX news. 40 times on MSNBC's, THE ABRAM'S REPORT" 34 times on CNN's LARRY KING LIVE. And 20 times on HARDBALL.

JON STEWART: And I hope they get-- to the bottom of it. I hope they find out.

BILL MOYERS: Is this why you're able to say, without any challenge, that we're being gas lighted? That we keep hearing one thing while something else is being done?

JON STEWART: No, there's no question. There is in your mind. Look, you know they always talk about the news wants to be objective. Leaving FOX NEWS out of it because that's-- that's sort of a different animal. And, by the way, a very entertaining animal. I enjoy watching FOX NEWS and I think every country should have their own Al-Jazeera.

BILL MOYERS: They soon will.

JON STEWART: They soon will. But the other news networks-- you know they have this idea that they're being objective. But news has never been objective. It's always-- what does every newscast start with? Our top stories tonight. That's a list. That's an object-- that's a subjective-- some editor made a decision; here's our top stories.

#1. There's a fire in the Bronx.

#2. They arrested Martha Stewart.

Whatever-- however you place those stories, is a subjective ranking as much as AFI's 100 Best Films in the World is. So why not take advantage of that and actually analyze what you do think is important and make that-- I will guarantee you, in the newsrooms across the country, they don't believe the Laci Petersen story is the most important story that they have to deal with. I guarantee it!

BILL MOYERS: Why is it that President Bush has to go to South Africa to be asked a critical question about nuclear weapons of mass destruction?

JON STEWART: Because in the United States he doesn't see anybody in the press. He's in a-- small room, with a treadmill, that he runs on. And a little brush to clear diorama. Like he's not-- he is not exposed in any way.

You know what's great? Watch a Bush press conference, and then turn on-- Tony Blair and Parliament. Where he literally has to sit in front of his most vociferous critic. And that critic will say, "Sir, on the 13th, the dossier of the French, would not the nuclear. You were hiding things. How do you answer, sir?"

"The distinguished gentleman is wrong. I can prove it in this way." Contrast that with the press conference that Bush had on the eve of war. "Uh, okay, the next question is-- Jim. Is there a Jim here? Yeah. You got the next one."

"That is not the agreed upon question. We're gonna move on. Ralph, you got something?" It an incredibly, managed, theatrical farce. And it's incredible to be that people are playing along with it. And they say that they're playing along with it because they're afraid of losing access. You don't have any access! There's nothing to lose!

BILL MOYERS: People say, "Jon Stewart speaks for the middle man. He speaks for guys between the left and the right." And yet, I sometimes think you're letting the American people off too easily. They watch all of this cable stuff.

JON STEWART: No. But this is--

BILL MOYERS: And they vote for these politicians.

JON STEWART: No. They they vote less than 50 percent of the country. The country is, look,the general dialogue is being swayed by-- the people who are ideologically driven.

The five percent on each side that are so ideological driven that they-- will dictate the terms of the discussion. The other 90 percent of the country have lawns to mow, and kids to pick up from schools, and money to make, and-- things to do. Their lives are, they have entrusted-- we live in a representative democracy.

And so, we elect representatives to go do our bidding, so that we can-- get the leaves out of the gutter, and-- -- do the things around the house that-- need to be done. What the representatives have done over 200 years is set up a periphery, I think they call it the Beltway--that is a-- obtuse enough that we can't penetrate it anymore, unless we spend all of our time. This is the way that it's been set up purposefully by both sides. And-- the financial industry, as well. They don't want average people to easily penetrate the workings. Because then we call them on it.

BILL MOYERS: In the interest of full disclosure--

JON STEWART: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: --I do want people to understand that you do not pass yourself off as Walter Lippman.

JON STEWART: No.

BILL MOYERS: Am I right? Here's a clip.

VIDEO CLIP:

Stewart: But we are at war, and we here at THE DAILY SHOW will do our best to keep you informed of any late-breaking humor we can find. Of course, our show is at a disadvantage compared to the many news sources that we're competing with - at a disadvantage in several respects. For one thing, we are fake. They are not. So in terms of credibility uh uh - we are, well, oddly enough, we're about even. Doesn't seem like it should be that way, but it is.

JON STEWART: I feel bad looking at that -- I mean, I don't mean to disparage. There's-- tremendously talented, smart people in the-- news industry.

BILL MOYERS: But I look at that, and I think there's no hope for me.

JON STEWART: Well, that's why I'm here today. This is really an intervention, Bill.

(LAUGHTER)

BILL MOYERS: I'm ready.

JON STEWART: No.

BILL MOYERS: You need a straight man?

JON STEWART: It's gotta start. I am the straight man. That's the beautiful thing about being on my show.

I am surrounded by such talented people that I literally, I can just sit there, and advance the script. I am Dr. Exposition on the show. I just advance the script. and then they take it from there.

BILL MOYERS: Jon Stewart, THE DAILY SHOW. Thank you for joining us on NOW.

JON STEWART: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be here.