Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart says he regrets his show’s taking part in what he calls “the evisceration expectation” – inviting political opponents like Bill O’Reilly onto the show and giving in to the “gravitational force” of creating a viral moment.
In an interview with The New York Times in anticipation of the June 26 release of his film Irresistible, Stewart reflects on, among other things, his Daily Show legacy, his old nemesis Fox News and what he says is President Donald Trump’s failure to rise to greatness during a time of social upheaval.
Asked what the rise of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson at Fox News represents for the network, Stewart says, “I think they’re just the next level. As things progress, to get the same dopamine hit, you have to push it further. Although O’Reilly pushed it pretty far. The question was always, Why would you talk to him? Why do you have him on the show if you can’t destroy him? If you want to talk about the worst legacy of The Daily Show, it was probably that.”
Pressed further, Stewart continues, “That’s the part of it that I probably most regret. Those moments when you had a tendency, even subconsciously, to feel like, ‘We have to live up to the evisceration expectation.’ We tried not to give something more spice than it deserved, but you were aware of, say, what went viral. Resisting that gravitational force is really hard.”
Stewart does, however, reject the notion that his Comedy Central show created the concept of news as entertainment that has become pervasive in intervening years.
‘‘Look, we certainly were part of that ecosystem, but I don’t think that news became entertainment because they thought our show was a success. Twenty-four-hour news networks are built for one thing, and that’s 9/11. There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict.’’
As for Trump, Stewart says what surprises him most about the political response to the pandemic is that “the Trump administration has not changed its practices.”
“You would have thought,” he says, “that somebody would have mentioned to Trump the idea of rising to greatness. Instead it’s: ‘Why don’t I tweet out that Joe Scarborough killed people?'”