"Campaign gears up for 'Indecision 2000' on TV"
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)
August 10, 1999
by Tom Walter


The madness of a presidential election cycle has begun, and that has the folks at Comedy Central's The Daily Show salivating.

Of course, they salivate over any hypocrisy, pomposity or idiocy. The Daily Show cast of characters - along with Ben Stein - will form the core of "Indecision 2000," its twisted take on presidential politics to air during the party conventions and randomly throughout the campaign.

"We're going to have to really pull out every conceivable stop, and take every conceivable drug, to top what Bill Clinton and Monica (Lewinsky) were doing at the White House," said Stein.

The Daily Show host Jon Stewart will anchor political coverage from the Republican convention in Philadelphia, July 29-Aug. 4, 2000, while Stein - who once worked in the Nixon White House and remains a staunch Republican - will front the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, Aug. 14-17, 2000.

This way, the coverage will be aggressive and offensive to politicians of all persuasions.

"The idea of Al Gore, an actually psychopathically delusional person, running against George W. Bush, a person with no experience whatsoever that qualifies him for the presidency, promises a great deal of amusement," Stein said.

But Stewart isn't worried about trying to think up new things to say about those two people.

"The feeling I have right now is there's a power vacuum for the first time in eight years. There's gonna be something interesting that comes out of that mad rush to the top," he said. "Yeah, Gore might not be that charismatic, but there will be levels of intrigue to this battle that we haven't seen in eight years. The last nonincumbent election was 1988. I think those are always more interesting because you introduce a whole new cast of characters. The soap opera begins again."

Take Bush - please.

"To me, the most extraordinary thing is that a man in this country can lead the polls and nobody knows who he is. How staggering is that?" asked Daily Show contributor Lewis Black. "If that's the way we're going to go, why don't we just go to another country and get somebody we really don't know?"

Stein has his own opinion about Bush, though it's typically tempered by his opinion of President Clinton.

"I find it kind of funny that (Bush) has had such a questionable business background. It's really hard to see how many honest dollars he's ever made in his life, and yet he seems to poll incredibly high in ethics and integrity. I guess that's a reflection of how people feel about the present incumbent. I guess what's funny is it takes so little to outpoll the present incumbent on ethics and integrity," Stein said.

It looks as though neither Al Franken nor Chris Rock, mainstays of Comedy Central's 1996 election coverage, will have a role. Comedy Central has decided to let The Daily Show crew do the dirty work.

But it's work that needs to be done. Not to get too philosophical here, but someone has to say the emperor has no clothes. Laughing at power is incredibly important if we want to keep power in check. Nobody openly laughed at Stalin or Hitler and lived long enough to laugh again.

Of course, The Daily Show skewers a variety of people. Sometimes it can run a joke into the ground. And it sometimes can cross a line.

"We can lose our perspective. We do certain jokes that, in retrospect, we don't feel good about and people would have a right to feel bad about, but no one ever died from an errant joke," Stewart said.

Besides, what the show does isn't as offensive as what the news media can do in certain situations, swamping innocent people in time of crisis, trampling all over people in pursuit of that one great visual of a shell-shocked Columbine High School kid crying.

"I think what we do is relatively well thought out," Stewart said. "And while there are times you step over a line when you're in the mix, and things are happening fast and furious, I think the truth is we, as fake journalists, exercise far more restraint than the journalists that I see.

"I watched the coverage of Columbine, and when those kids, scared as they were, got off that bus coming out of that school, I thought they were being reunited with their friends and camera crews. I've never seen anything like that, and we didn't make one joke about it."


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