Jon Stewart and his irony-dipped
'Daily Show' are going to the conventions -- with Bob Dole in
tow Jon Stewart has never covered a war or uncovered a crooked
pol. But that hasn't stopped him from tackling the really, really,
really tough issues. Like the travails of a hero penguin in South
Africa, or the need for nude weather forecasters in Moscow. Groundbreaking
reports like these have given "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart"
the right to boast, at the start of each broadcast, that Comedy
Central viewers are about to see "the most important television
Anyone who doubts that claim should tune in
as Stewart, 37, and his crew hit the campaign trail over the next
few weeks with Comedy Central's "Indecision 2000" coverage. The
big networks may be cutting back, but this news parody will send
94 staffers to Philadelphia for the GOP convention, ready to compete
with "traditional" journalists. Then they'll aim for Los Angeles
and the Democrats. And they'll have high-powered help: Bob Dole
and former Labor secretary Robert Reich have both signed up to
All of which proves that the line between real
and surreal is getting a little fuzzy. "We're a fake news organization
covering a fake news event," says Stewart. "We've hit the bottom
of the barrel as far as irony is concerned." Maybe, but irony
sells. Since Stewart took over as anchor last year, "The Daily
Show" has averaged 2 million viewers a night, according to the
network -- huge for cable.
Those viewers include many of the real journalists
the program is spoofing, some of whom have shown up on the show.
After a segment with Wolf Blitzer, Stewart asked if the CNN star
could stick around for a bit. "This is the most important show
ever," Blitzer replied. "How could I say no?" Sreenath Sreenivasan,
a journalism professor at Columbia University, has invited "Daily
Show" correspondent Stephen Colbert to lecture, because he thinks
the witty take on dumb conventions of broadcasting serves as a
primer on what not to do. "It should be mandatory watching for
anyone who produces journalism," says Sreenivasan. Consider one
hilarious sendup 24 hours after the New Hampshire primary: correspondents
Nancy Walls and Vance DeGeneres whooped it up with McCain backers
while Mo Rocca shivered pointlessly outside in the cold.
Every night there's a mix of headlines, field
pieces (a series on old people was titled "The Wrinkling of America")
and off-the-wall commentary, like Lewis Black's priceless rants.
What makes the show work, Stewart says, is those "spinach in the
teeth" moments, when viewers glimpse the human being behind the
image. One such moment occurred on John McCain's Straight Talk
Express, the campaign bus famous for freewheeling exchanges with--reporters.
McCain gamely submitted to a lightning round of questions from
correspondent Steve Carell. Favorite book? "For Whom the Bell
Tolls." Favorite movie? "Viva Zapata!" Then Carell popped in a
tough one about pork-barrel politics. McCain was speechless until
Carell defused the situation by admitting he was "just kidding."
Or was he? The gambit caught a savvy candidate
off guard--no mean feat. "We're like that show on Fox, 'Magic
Secrets Revealed'," says Stewart. "We're showing that they're
on a Hollywood set." His guys don't have to play by the rules.
Like when Rocca joined reporters who were holding up tape recorders
to listen to Rep. Lindsey Graham. Except Rocca's tape recorder
was playing music. When the others pointed this out, Rocca apologized:
"Sorry, wrong button."
Although he loves a good joke, Stewart seems
wistful when he talks about politics. Growing up in New Jersey,
he was idealistic. "I was a Norman Thomas fan in a way that you
can be in high school, because you don't pay taxes yet," he says.
Even now, he seems slightly awed that he gets to chat with heavyweights
like Dole, who came on board at the urging of his communications
director, a fan of Stewart's. "We're a bunch of jackasses sitting
in an office in New York who don't know how the government works,"
Stewart says. "He gives us insight." Plus some pretty good (and
unscripted) lines. During one appearance, Stewart cracked that
watching Al Gore was as boring as gazing at a Yule log. Snapped
Dole: "When he gives a fireside chat, the fire goes out." Dole
says humor can be a powerful weapon for a politician: "I wish
I'd used more of it in '96." But seriously, folks, is this what
it's all about? A good punch line? "We're just doing our job,"
says Stewart, "and we understand that [politicians] are just doing
theirs, except their job happens to affect 260 million people
and our job happens to affect my family and some guys I used to
know in college who still watch." And that's as real as it gets.