"Irreverence in an Age of Reverence"
New York Times, Critics Choice, a Times Talk Series
January 11, 2002
Hosted by Julie Salamon



This panel originally was scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 11 - Sept. 14 and I was going to talk to the cast of "Everybody Loves Raymond.'' So if any of you were hoping to see Ray Romano tonight, Peter's going to play Ray and John's going to be his mother.

PETER JENNINGS. Typecasting again.

Q. Well, we have two anchors. Ray would have been great, but I can't really think of two people who would have been more qualified to speak to us tonight about Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Peter Jennings has been anchor and senior editor of "World News Tonight'' on ABC since 1983. He's covered every kind of disaster possible: assassinations, political upheavals, riots, social movements of every type. And Jon Stewart's been an anchor of a kind of two years on Comedy Central, and he's had quite an illustrious career, too, building up to his anchorship. He was on the front lines on his show on MTV where he fed cheese chunks to a Playboy Playmate. It's all there on videotape. He cuddled in William Shatner's lap. And this helped qualify him to become one of our smartest commentators on politics, I think, really on television today. I think we have a really great panel here tonight and I'm very excited.

Now, part of my job as moderator is to be sort of the principal, I guess, the teacher. So I'm going to tell you about this evening's format. I hope you've all spit your gum _ no, I'm just kidding. I'm going to talk to our guests for about 45 minutes to an hour and then we're going to open up the floor for questions. There are microphones on both sides of the room. But please don't line up at the microphones till we tell you to do it because it'll get really tiring watching you guys rock back and forth in line until it's time for the questions.

And now we're going to get down to business. And I'm going to start with, here with two TV guys, we're going to start with something I want to show you. And now I get to say words that those of us in print rarely get to say: Roll tape. And it's not working.

[tape clip shown] STEWART. Good times, they were good time.

JENNINGS. I'd never seen that. I thought the visit was enough.

Q. Peter, why did you decide to go on Comedy Central? I saw you on David Letterman a couple of weeks ago and he was complaining that he'd been asking you forever to go on his show and Brokow's been there and Rather's been there, but you never _ was it because you thought Jon's show was so much better? Did you think you'd be safe on _

JENNINGS. No, I just thought Jon wouldn't make me cry.

STEWART. I think it was that he thought my show was so much better.

Q. Or was it because it was on cable and you thought nobody would see it?

JENNINGS. As Jon knows, I have been a big fan for a long time and when he asked to do it everybody in the office _ and partly because everybody in my office thought, oh, God, we should never do that. That just upped the ante and I thought that's a great thing. If management didn't like it, it was bound to be fun. And he came and, as you saw, he was wonderfully _ but I've never seen it before. You did quite a nice job of editing.

STEWART. Thank you.

JENNINGS. You took out all your bad parts, though.

STEWART. Thank you. Yes, I did. That's the beauty of the ...

Q. And, Jon, so why was it Peter you wanted? Had you asked Brokaw and he turned you down, is that why you were so mean about his book? Or did you want somebody _ was it something about Peter's coverage that is better to you? I assume you're a great student of all of the anchors.

STEWART. It's our policy on Comedy Central to hire immigrants. So that was our only caveat.

Q. Was his green card O.K.?

STEWART. Yeah, it's just hard to understand him.

JENNINGS. I once got involved in a debate about behavior, journalist behavior. Somebody asked me a very tough question _ this is many, many years ago. And all I could remember when I got out _ it was a very tough situation _ was that I had my green card in my pocket and if I'd incorrectly they'd take it away. Long time ago.

Q. Have you ever thought it might be kind of fun one night for you to just trade places? Like you'd do the "Evening News,'' you know how to push the button now, and you'd do "The Daily Show,'' and what do you imagine would be the most fun part about that and the most scary part about it?

JENNINGS. Well, we were actually talking a little bit about this before. First of all _ well, I'll give you an example of just sort of where we are. We are _ first of all, I think you for coming on behalf of both of us because I must say I never thought you'd all show up to see Jon. But we were talking a little bit about _

STEWART. How did I get to be Abbott and you got to be Costello? Why aren't you Abbott?

JENNINGS. Because Costello is an immigrant name. The one thing I truly miss, and I'm a regular viewer of his and he knows, one thing I truly miss are those opportunities to be irreverent. And so he does stuff on the broadcast that we're dying to do and can't, just because that's not what we do. So to be able to go and do his broadcast at least once would be _ of course ruin your career.

STEWART. It certainly ruined mine.

Q. What about you, Jon?

STEWART. I would not want to do that.

Q. You wouldn't? Why?

STEWART. They don't pay enough. I have trouble with earnestness. I would have trouble honestly holding it together, especially in times of crisis where he is, I think, very much a centered individual. For instance, on Sept. 11 my coverage would have went, the planes have just hit. Oh, shit, I've got to get out of here! And I don't think that probably would have been as comforting to the nation. No.

JENNINGS. The truth of the matter is I think he would do it very well. I really do think he'd do it very well. I think one of the reasons that the broadcast, his broadcast, is good is because it is intelligent. And one of the things we're always looking for is intelligent people in any walk of life to come and talk seriously. And I think he could hold it together for 10 or 12 minutes.

STEWART. Commercial break.

Q. Well, Peter, when you talk about the people in the newsroom wishing to be irreverent, during the commercial breaks is there a whole other kind of conversation going on? You know, the way you see on "E.R.'' the surgeons are all having a conversation about _

STEWART. You know that's also a fake hospital. Yes, yes. Q. You're kidding. Oh, my God!

STEWART. All actors. At the end of the show you'll see a list of names. You'll see, trust me. I've been around the block.

JENNINGS. How long did you say this was going to go on? Because we both are of the age we need to know, be sure, how much water we can drink.

Q. Well you can take a bathroom _ the bathrooms in the green room are so funny, they look like they're ...

JENNINGS. You know from being in a newsroom, though, you know from being in a newsroom that like hospitals, like doctors, there is horrible dark humor in journalism. And I think it's for the same reason, I think it's because it's a protective cover. It keeps us from getting too involved emotionally with things which are very often quite horrible. This is true I think if you're in the field than if you're in the home office. But it does not take long when the crisis occurs for the darkest, most horrible jokes. I mean, I think probably we're ahead of Wall Street in some respects in terms of creating spontaneous dark, dark, sometimes evil humor. And it is, Jon said it, it's like putting a sheath on and protecting yourself, to some extent.

Q. Well, literally, in the days right after Sept. 11 those kind of jokes were going around in the newsroom? Can you tell us any of them?

JENNINGS. No, no, I would never. No, no. I wouldn't tell you one because it wouldn't have any value here, to be perfectly honest.

STEWART. And out of that context I imagine it does seem more horrible than it is in the context of it.

JENNINGS. Oh, infinitely. I think if the audience ever knew some of the banter that occurs in newsrooms, and this is, again, truer in the field _ correspondents sitting around after a firefight or some horrible disaster where a lot of people lost their lives, were sitting around having a beer at night _ and people heard what _ they'd just think we were inhuman, which, of course, would not be in our interest.

Q. And when you guys are all really funny on Comedy _ on "The Daily Show'' and you take a break, do you get really serious then?

STEWART. The commercial breaks are basically reserved for op-ed pieces. Actually, in the commercial breaks we do the crossword puzzle and I have to say, the only I like more than doing it is finishing it. I had to do that before I check on news in my homeland. Guy's from Teaneck.

JENNINGS. John is sort of twisted. He has a cigarette after the crossword puzzle.

STEWART. Yeah, I enjoy _ sorry.

Q. Well, I guess I'll start with Jon on this.


Q. Yeah, because you're here. When you're putting together "The Daily Show'' what do you look at during the day? What are the news sources for you? Do you look at everything or nothing? Do you read The Times?

STEWART. Yes, everything. We would never take a narrow myopic approach or make things up. We really, honestly, don't look at anything. Should I not have said that?

JENNINGS. You can tell, you can tell.

Q. Nothing?

STEWART. Not really. During the day we're just writing jokes. I mean, it's not _ right before the show we don't watch a news story and go _

JENNINGS. No, but you don't watch any? You have to read and you keep something under the _

STEWART. We read the papers and have CNN on, but it's not _ we make our decision, our editorial decisions in the morning. So by 10 o'clock, 10:30 we know _ and I apologize for my voice, by the way. It's _

JENNINGS. That's O.K., Jon.

STEWART. I was doing bong hits. But Peter and I were smoking a [blunt?]. We've made our editorial decision about what it is beforehand. I mean, part of what we do is reactive. We're not actually reporting on the news, we're a day or two behind and trying to make it _ we're faking that it's urgent or happening.

Q. No, no, I understand. I knew "E.R.'' was not a newscast, too.

STEWART. I'm aware. I'm not at The Post Critics Choice. You're a very bright paper. Could use a cartoon section, but that doesn't matter.

But we, our editorial decisions are based on the most visceral story or the best footage package that we can get our hands on.

JENNINGS. So he's answered the question, because the answer _

STEWART. Thank you.

JENNINGS. It took you a while, too.

STEWART. What is the answer?

JENNINGS. The answer is you look at things.

STEWART. I look at things.

JENNINGS. You look at things. Why did you have to strain so to get that answer out?

STEWART. I'm not a bright man so I say things and then you say, what my friend means. This is very similar to a Cyrano situation where I try to talk and then my friend here, beyond yon window _

JENNINGS. They did a fabulous piece one night on in search of Hanukkah.

STEWART. It was about the overcommercialization of Hanukkah.

JENNINGS. But they used a clip from _ was it not that day? Or was it the day after? No, it was that day _ from that day at the White House, which is why I know that you're watching.

STEWART. Yes, yes, lighting the menorah, the little girl. And Barbara _ not Barbara Bush. What's the other one's name? Laura. Giving one of those piercing I-would-rather-be-home-bedazzling kinds of _ she's looking at a little Jewish girl named Rachel lighting a menorah and in her head she's just over and over repeating, "Jingle bells.'' But yeah, it's a wonderful piece of footage of this little girl lighting a menorah at the White House. And we did get a hold of that.

JENNINGS. You can see why I'd want to do this at least once, because I see the same look in Mrs. Bush's eye. I tell the audience she cares.

Q. Peter, I think you've missed your calling. I think you could do this full time. Don't you think he _ I think he's _

STEWART. He's good.

Q. You're good, I'm telling you.

STEWART. Yeah, he's got some timing, that kid.

Q. And the Canadian accent, it's a pretty good combination.

STEWART. Mm hmm.

Q. So do you guys watch any other TV besides _ JENNINGS. We have a billing issue ....

Q. Do you watch any other TV? Do you watch TLC?

STEWART. I'm a reader.

Q. You're a reader. Yeah, he told us backstage he doesn't use e-mail, he doesn't know how to use a computer.

STEWART. I know how to use it.

Q. You do? How?

STEWART. I just don't know how to use it _ you hit the button and thing goes _

JENNINGS. Where's Jon's _ Jon's wife is here. Could you just at least hold your finger up for me when he's lying.

STEWART. We don't have e-mail, right, honey? What is your name again? I call you _

Q. Because I was asking _ can I tell them about the dancing anchor site?


Q. I was telling him that I was doing a little research for tonight and I found this great site on the Web called dancing anchors. And it's got Peter and Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and Ted Koppel and they're dancing. They've got their heads _ and Peter's going like this and it's great.

JENNINGS. Made Jon jealous, I think that's why he _


Q. I said you have to be an anchor for at least four years and a fake anchor, seven years before you can.

STEWART. I understand. See there's this _ I'm working during the day, so I'm not doing the surfing like the two of you.

JENNINGS. What do you watch on television?

STEWART. On television?


STEWART. I like to watch _

JENNINGS. Besides you're a regular of Larry King.

STEWART. "Seinfeld,'' at 11 o'clock, Channel 5 has "Seinfeld.'' I like "Sports Center.'' I like Peter Jennings "World News Tonight.'' I like _ we really do watch, I was just telling him we watch _ you're our New Year's guy. We watched you when you rang in the millennium for the 24 hours at Le Mans or whatever. Didn't they have like a stunt anchor they could bring in an hour, 16 or something.

JENNINGS. Guy with a sweater, right.

STEWART. And we watched you this year. What do we watch? We watch Animal Planet sometimes.

JENNINGS. All of which, of course, is reflected in his humor.

STEWART. Yes. A lot of Animal Planet jokes. What the hell. What else do we watch. What is it? "The Simpsons'' we like.

Q. "Sopranos''? You have HBO?

STEWART. My old bar mitzvah tapes on the VCR.V Q. Did you bring them?

STEWART. We watch "The Sopranos'' every now and again. Sometimes if it's late and she's asleep I'll watch Cinemax to see if I can get a titty-shot real quick. That's just _ suddenly I reveal myself to be the vulgar fool that I am. What do you watch?

JENNINGS. Not a lot. I watch "24,'' which I love. I watch "West Wing,'' which I think is great. I watch any show that's got great writing. I watch hockey. I thought you were really, really crude last night.

STEWART. I was crude last night. I apologize for that. What did I say?

JENNINGS. Really crude. Well, you said nasty things about hockey.

STEWART. Last night?

JENNINGS. Hockey is part of my soul. When you did the thing on the hockey trial in Massachusetts.

STEWART. Oh, rink rage. Yeah, rink rage, where the hell did that come from?

JENNINGS. Excuse me, I grew up on rink rage. Don't be so damn _

STEWART. Rink rage, that's terrible. How did they come up with rink rage. There's been one case in history. Uh, people get nutty around groomed ice, yes.

JENNINGS. Tonight, while you were probably reading your clippings, he was convicted of manslaughter. And he's eligible for 20 years, but because he's a first offender, will probably three years.

Q. Three years?

JENNINGS. Yeah, three to five.

STEWART. Well, he seemed like such a nice fellow. Did you see the thing that happened. I mean, the guy's _ I don't know if any of you know him, but he's _ he looks like a brute.

Q. I know, we had a great _ there was a great photo of him _

STEWART. I sent him my lunch money. I mailed it. I was home. I literally filled out _ I sent it by check. This is my lunch money for the next 45 years. That's a serious guy.

JENNINGS. We're rapidly working out who does reverence and who does irreverence, right?

Q. O.K. well, maybe this is a good time to switch a little bit to the reverent part of the evening. Is that O.K.? Then you have to work irreverence back into it. To prepare for this evening I called ABC and Comedy Central and asked them to send me tapes of both Peter and Jon's first moments back on the air after Sept. 11. And I _

STEWART. One person's thrilled by that. The audience sadist: "Excellent.''

Q. Well, I spent _ ABC sent me an hour and a half. Peter went back on the air _ you'll actually see excerpts from these clips. Peter appeared on camera for the first time at 9:11 in the morning. And when I saw that it was just kind of one of those moments.

JENNINGS. I was in the newsroom. You know, people always ask us where we were when all this happened. And I was in the newsroom, I was 10 feet from the anchor desk.

STEWART. What time do you have to normally get in if you're preparing for a 6:30?

JENNINGS. Sometimes _ any, any _ I start working at home, 7-ish in the morning. I go to work about 8, anytime between 8 and 9 in the morning.

STEWART. Me, too.

JENNINGS. You, I think, need the time. And I was just literally walking in. The first plane _ "Good Morning, America'' was on. The first plane had hit and we knew there was something untoward. We didn't have the vaguest idea how untoward. But the moment something happens in of such an order in our shop _ and that's true in all the network news divisions _ they tell the anchorperson, no matter what program is aired, go to the anchor desk because you never know what it's going to be. You can be on the air for five minutes, you can be on the air for _ not go on the air at all. And that day I was on the air for 19 hours. But that was where I was going, I was literally in the news room, five feet away from the desk. Sometimes you're _ God forbid you're on the other side of town. I was on the other side of town at the _ forgive me if I digress, just shut me up.

Q. Oh, no, that's fine.

JENNINGS. I was at the United Nations having lunch with the president, breakfast with the president of Iran when the American Airlines flight went down in Queens. And we were just getting up from breakfast and all of a sudden every guy in the room was doing this, every security detail in the room and you knew something had happened. And I remember desperate, God, I should never go to the East Side. And jumping in a taxi and rushing back and listening to everybody knowing what exactly what I was going to have to do. I was going to have to go on the air again. It's hell, it is hell to be caught off base.

STEWART. You know, I had breakfast with the president of Iran as well. It's interesting, if I may. And this was my faux pas: never order the kosher meal. Terrible. I remember President

JENNINGS. He's discouraging me, you notice that.

STEWART. _ Khomeni leaned over to me and he said, "Farfel, you're going to eat farfel?'' I knew his name, though, that was nice.

JENNINGS. You were close. You were close.

STEWART. How do you know _ here's what I'd like to know: When you have to throw to all the various points, because you have _ we are becoming expert in faking that we have correspondents around the globe, but _

JENNINGS. That is true.

STEWART. _ you really have them around the globe. How are they made aware that you're about to throw to them? And how are you aware when they have something to say? Is that all through the I.F.B.? Is that all through the _

JENNINGS. Well, it depends. If I really like them, I give them some warning I'm going to ask them a question. If I don't like them, I just throw it to them. And watch them suffer.

STEWART. That's nice.

JENNINGS. They stand by all the time.

STEWART. But they're standing by.

JENNINGS. So I have my friends category and the guys who are too good and I won't to get airtime.

Q. Before we watch some of these clips, at some moments you're going to see one of the towers fall and you're talking and you're not aware that the tower is falling because you just keep talking about whatever it is you're talking about. There's a time lag. Were you not watching? You didn't have a monitor?

JENNINGS. I have scores of monitors including the competition in front of me all the time.

Q. So what is the time _

JENNINGS. I would be very surprised if I were _ see I've not seen this again. I never, ever go back and look. I've not seen that before. And so I would _ I will be surprised if I talk through this because somebody wrote an article about, afterwards about, how I had behaved during this thing, and they described that I had put up my hands in the newsroom, made everybody shut up. So I don't know, if I talked through this, then it was not necessary.

Q. You'll see, just for a little bit of _

JENNINGS. This the first tower, second tower?

Q. First tower.

JENNINGS. First tower.

STEWART. I just want to say it's interesting the effect, I don't know if you know the effect that you have on the people who are watching you but when we first heard about what happened, we heard it heard it, because we live downtown. And the first thing we did was turn you on.

JENNINGS. That's nice, Jon.

STEWART. And we went directly to you because _ it's a trust issue.

JENNINGS. Jon, if anything ever bad happens again _


JENNINGS. Do not go to your television. Call me for God's sake. ... see.

STEWART. I appreciate that.

Q. Well, just to tell you what you're going to see, I went through the hour and half, we cut out of you excerpts from Peter's coverage that morning, partly just to show how, you know, I think one of the things we forget in retrospect is how we knew nothing and how you're on the air knowing nothing and just learning about things bit by bit, trying to sort out what's going on and you can't even believe what's going on in front of your eyes.

And then there'll be a brief moment after the second tower falls that then we'll go blank. And then we're going to go to nine days later when Jon comes back on the air and talks. And so they both had two very difficult tasks: one to tell us what was going on as it was going on and then somebody else nine days later coming on to help us laugh again, which was something we all needed very much, I think, at that time.

So once again, roll tape.

[shows clips] Q. You O.K., Jon?

STEWART. No, fucking sucks. Pardon my language.

JENNINGS. It seems so long ago.

STEWART. You ain't kidding.

JENNINGS. In many ways.

STEWART. At the time it seemed like a good idea.

JENNINGS. And it's very hard to see yourself.

Q. Neither one of you has seen _ you haven't watched any of this.

JENNINGS. Well, two things. I know how hard it is for him, I think it's desperately hard ever to watch yourself vulnerable like that. But what's interesting for me watching this is we decided _ you're quite right, I was talking. I realize now, in retrospect. We've now seen the towers fall enough in that day that we're all familiar with it, so it was clear at first that in that cloud of smoke I didn't quite know what had happened on the first tower. But we made a very fast decision at ABC that we would not run these over and over and over again. So in all of _ and the reason we made that decision, which goes, I hope, to prove that we do learn something from these occasions, is at the time of the Challenger explosion, when I spent 11 and a half hours on the air straight, they just used it time and time again in the control room. Every time I turned around they were running the contrails in the air. And finally I had to say out loud on the air, because the only way to talk to the control room is with an open mike, don't run that again, and we stopped. But it took us 10 or 12 hours. And this time we decided we wouldn't use these images, we'd only use still pictures.

So that is the first time in all this time that I have actually sat down and looked at the buildings go down again. And, ironically, it's probably a good thing I did because it's _ because life does go on. And especially goes on in this town. Jon coming back, David Letterman as well having helped us move on in the city, made a huge amount of difference. It's good to be reminded again of where we've been, not just where we're going.

Q. You know, Jon, I wanted to ask you as well. I mean, I just showed you a brief clip of Jon's talk _

STEWART. That was actually 97 minutes long. The actual clip.

Q. Actually eight minutes, which is a really long time on television.

JENNINGS. You took eight minutes to do that?

STEWART. Eight minutes.

Q. He got Martin Luther King. It was a long talk.

STEWART. It was a long talk.

Q. But it was very moving, I have to say. And what I wanted to ask you was had you written that ahead of time?

STEWART. I hadn't written it. What I'd done was _ first of all, the idea of entertainers getting back to work was kind of funny because that was nine days after it had happened. So the idea that a big deal had been made about us getting back to work, in many respects we were the last people in the country to get back to work. Everybody else was already working. So when we came back and said, we're back and work, and everybody was like, what? I'm sorry? Work? I didn't hear you. I'm too busy working to hear you come back to work. So that in itself is overwrought to begin with.

But for us at the show, we were so rocked as people that we didn't feel like doing the show so basically what that show was was muscle memory. It was reflexively moving atrophied limbs so that we'd _ that really, we didn't do a show. I spoke for a few minutes and then we ran old clips of things.

Q. The Peter clip.

STEWART. Peter's clip, another one of a fellow that ran for president, I think, eight different times, just a wonderful character. Just things we thought might make people smile.

JENNINGS. Do you know what I often thought was probably the hardest few _ and I'm sure everybody here had some minor experience with it _ was when you kept asking yourself, is it O.K. to be funny now? Even if you went out for dinner at night, was it O.K. to laugh? Was it O.K. to tell a dirty joke? Whatever it took. I would think the hardest thing for these guys was to say, is it O.K. for me to be funny now? Because then you'd run into somebody for whom it was not O.K. for you to be funny. I mean, the audience was deeply, deeply pained. There were a lot of raw, raw wounds out there. So you could do something that was palatable to somebody; somebody else would want to take your head off.

STEWART. Right. I've got to go back and look at those tapes because there's probably a lot of people who want to take my head off right now.

JENNINGS. Well, just in your case in general principles.

STEWART. Yes, yes. It was, I think for us it was opening a window and letting the bad air out and hopefully some fresh air in and then trying to proceed from there.

Q. And by the following week when you came back, did you feel better? You seemed better.

STEWART. Much better. Selfishly, I felt better as soon as that was done. I went, we'll be right back. I went backstage and blew my nose and did that and all of a sudden it was incredibly cathartic. And I hope you all get a show where _ because I have to say _ and, honestly, the way cable is going, you will all get a show. As a matter of fact, from what I understand, they'll be passing them out at the desk.

But, no, for me it was remarkably cathartic. What I really wanted to do was distill how I felt truly. And before you can speak it, you have to find it. And that's an incredibly liberating moment for you, is to sit in a room by yourself and think, what has this really done to me? And what I came up with, which I don't know if it was necessarily effective for the audience, was a positive approach, which was the say, I'm really in mourning, but I don't despair because what I've seen from this city and from this country is so overwhelmingly positive as to say, well, we have taken a blow but we have clearly overcome it.

JENNINGS. I know how hard it was for him, because when he came back I knew he'd been out blowing his nose. I could see all over your sleeve.

STEWART. Yeah, it was all over the place. But it was incredibly liberating to be able to put that out there. Q. When I was on the Web again, I found _ you have actually more Web sites than anybody. I guess you have a lot of Web sites, but he has an amazing amount of Web sites for some reason.

JENNINGS. And they're kinky. Jon's a real freak.

Q. There are actually a lot of nakeds because of your book. There are a lot of naked Jon Stewart Web sites, but he's not really naked on them because I looked.

JENNINGS. I don't think he ever got as many hits until he put that one up.

STEWART. That's actually why I did it. I wrote a book called "Naked Pictures of Famous People,'' because I knew that would be the top searched phrase.

Q. It's good, very smart. But I found this quote from Peter, on one of the Peter Jennings Web sites, where you said, I remember covering Kennedy's assassination, at the end of three days breaking down utterly, but never having any doubt whatsoever that the country would dust itself off quite quickly and move on again. Did you feel that way about September?

JENNINGS. Oh, very much so.

Q. You did.

JENNINGS. Very much so. I have a really hard time with those people who say, we are changed forever, because I think when they say it they mean that somehow we are debilitated on a long-term basis. And I just don't think that's true at all. I think the country's changed because it's all gone on into the national institutional personal memory.

But to go back to the immigrant notion, I think anybody who's come here from somewhere else or has spent as much of their career as I have living and working somewhere else, has this infinite belief that the country can take on anything. I was going to say almost anything, but the truth of the matter is I mean anything. And so I've never had a second's doubt since this happened that the country would move on quickly, vigorously. It would absorb it as one absorbs pain, but that it wouldn't _

Now, there are some dicey issues out there at the moment about the argument about military tribunals and how far the government may go. But again, I think that's all part of an extraordinary, unbelievably, uniquely strong society. So I've never had any doubt.

STEWART. I love America, too. I am no commie.

JENNINGS. Sit down on your dream cardigan[?].

STEWART. Having dabbled in Norman Thomas was merely a hobby.

JENNINGS. You've just pleased my wife's mother no end.

STEWART. Really. I should have gone to ...

Q. But you know that day when, I think, seeing these images again, which I hadn't looked at, obviously, for four months either, and when the second tower crashed and I was out on the street so I didn't have that aerial view. I had, unfortunately, a ground view, but when you saw the whole Lower Manhattan fill up with smoke like that it looks like a nuclear holocaust. Did you have that feeling that I had? JENNINGS. Well, I had to go down. I had to go down. It was terribly frustrating _

Q. That day?

JENNINGS. No, I couldn't go that day and I couldn't go the second day because I was on the air all the time. But I went in the dark early morning of the third day and I went with the police commissioner, Commissioner Kerik. And in some ways he helped me understand it, because I wanted to know more than anything else _ I didn't want to experience. I've experienced a lot of disaster, I've been in a lot of earthquakes so I know what it's like for stuff to fall. But I wanted to know desperately whether or not television was doing the visual tragedy justice. In other words, if there was something about it that was so much greater, of such greater magnitude that we just weren't capturing it on television. And I went with the police commissioner.

And it turned out we both worked and lived in the Middle East for a long time. And he said, you know, I used to work in Saudi Arabia and I once went on vacation to Egypt and I stood there and I looked at the pyramids. And he said, I used to stand and look at the pyramids, I never could understand how they built the pyramids. And now, he said, pointing for me at the all of the firemen moving stuff out one bucketful at a time, he said, now I understand how they built the pyramids. And in some respects it was the most _ it's clearly what I remember. But he was also enormously helpful to me to go back and talk to the audience again because he gave me a sense of perspective. So I had to go for that reason.

Q. That's amazing. Well, also, I wanted to ask you, you know, Jon talks about getting this sense of catharsis from that talk and from the crying, but you didn't have a chance to do that really. You were on the air for 19 hours and you didn't cry. Have you just seen so much stuff in all these years that you have an anesthetic?

JENNINGS. Well, I lost it once very briefly, as my wife knows. My kids, one of whom was in school in Massachusetts, the other in California, had called very quickly to check on me because I couldn't call them. And I turned at one point and there was a message on the desk behind me said, your kids called. And that really did it. Still does do it a bit. And I turned to the audience and I said, everybody's got to call their kids. Call your kids. I mean, it was _ but in many ways that was the hardest.

But don't forget, the rest of the time it's a bit like the humor stuff, I'm so incredibly busy. STEWART. If there was one other moment, because when we were watching you there was a moment where _ and this is what I think, in terms of the coverage that you were providing, was when _ I can't remember if it was the day of or the next day or the next day where you saw the shot registering in other lands.

JENNINGS. Oh, yes.

STEWART. And there was one where you read something from a Canadian editor, an op-ed piece from the 60's, I believe.

JENNINGS. That's right.

STEWART. And then they showed some images from Ontario and people _

JENNINGS. There were two, you're quite right. I grew up in the 40's and 50's in Canada when anti-Americanism was in my mother's milk. And the notion that I'd ever come to America to seek my future was just unheard of. My father was a great imperialist.

And so to see 100,000 people on the steps of the _ on the front lawn of the Canadian Parliament singing the American national anthem was a bit of a shock. And when Her Majesty's guard played the national anthem outside Buckingham Palace, well that old colonial thing in me really just _ I thought _ yeah, you're quite right. That was very moving. Very moving.

STEWART. Yeah, I thought so as well.

JENNINGS. And there was, in fact, an old colleague of my dad's who'd been on the radio. My dad was a broadcaster. And he'd written a piece in the 60's about what America really meant. And I read part of that on the air. STEWART. Yeah, that was something.

JENNINGS. Everybody was American on the 11th, everybody.

Q. Yeah, well, everybody was American on the 11th and then _

STEWART. And everyone is Jewish on ... That's how it goes.

JENNINGS. Oh, man. We're going to have to pay this guy. Q. Well, Peter, I didn't tell you, but that's where the money that they paid goes: Jon's getting paid.

JENNINGS. O.K., that's worth it.

Q. Just kidding. What was I going to ask? You completely threw me off.

STEWART. Sagitarius. Next question.

JENNINGS. He does that all the time.

Q. Censorship, that's what it is. After Sept. 11, have you _

STEWART. Just in terms of what? In terms of self-censorship?

Q. Yourself, self-censorship. Or Comedy Central's censorship.

JENNINGS. Ha, ha. Self-censorship. Jeez, man doesn't know how.

STEWART. Comedy Central doesn't know we're on. All their focus is on "Battlebots'' right now.

Q. I thought it was on all the "Airplane'' reruns.

STEWART. What's interesting, and I think this goes along the lines what Peter was saying earlier about people who make pronouncements, cultural pronouncements, about the tenor of the country and what things mean now. I think 25 years from now we will somehow be able to digest what happened and what the changes were. But to try and do it now is not _ we function how we always functioned, which is our intuition. And we're never pitch-perfect and hopefully we draw the line before we become crass or profane. But the truth is it's the most subjective reality that there is, is humor. And all you can use is your intuition. To me, it's music _ comedy. And if it sounds in my ear or gut right, that's all I know. And so I don't _ I can't say that there's a cognitive process of evaluation that goes on because it's not that. It's much more visceral.

Q. So there's never a moment when you guys are in a story meeting or a script meeting and somebody will throw out an idea for a joke and you would say, eek, that feels it might not be the right thing to do right now because _

STEWART. Oh, wait. O.K., yeah. No, there's that.

Q. That's what I mean by self-censorship. That's part of the process.

STEWART. That's no different than _ what I'm trying to explain is that it's no different, on Sept. 10 that occurred as well.

Q. Really? You mean before you were censoring yourself?

STEWART. Uh, well, contrary to popular belief, we don't feel bratty on the show. We feel like we're not gratuitously stepping over the line just to do it. We don't feel like we're egging people's houses. We actually think that we're trying to operate with precision. So it is _ it's a process that we've always _ there's an internal barometer there.

JENNINGS. It's very similar because you see our barometer is always _ you try to keep the barometer in a certain place so that you _ because you know you're talking to people all across the political spectrum, you're talking to people who have little and you're talking to people who have a lot. He, in some respects _ you want always, I think, to be respectful of your audience. And I don't think it makes any difference whether you're a journalist or a humorist.

STEWART. You know what's interesting, is in my experience it does make no difference whether you're a journalist or humorist.

JENNINGS. You like to be called _ I've never thought what to _ humorist? You don't like to be called a comedian, do you?

STEWART. Anything but kikey.

Q. x x x do people out there want to ask your own questions?

JENNINGS. Is that because we were talking too long or because the questions are out there?

Q. Does anybody out there want to go to the mikes and ask your own questions or should we just keep going?

JENNINGS. Or just scream at us.


Q. O.K., we'll keep going. But if anybody has a question, just go to the mike and we'll see you and then we'll let you ask the question. So I don't want you to feel inhibited, O.K.? So, Peter _

JENNINGS. What if they don't go to the mike?

Q. Yeah, they're going to feel bad if you don't ask any questions, so somebody should ask a question. I think I told a couple of people out there to ask questions. You, you're going to.

So, Peter, basically, you're Dr. Doom, when the world is in total chaos and on the verge of collapse, that's your best _

JENNINGS. No, not the Dr. Doom stuff because the Dr. Doom stuff crowds out all the other stuff you'd like to do as well. One of the big questions asked of us in the wake of Sept. 11 is are we going to do more international news, because we've all been through a bad patch. And I grew up as a foreign correspondent and I love it and I think that Main Street, America is like Main, Street, Globe and so I want to do more. And if I just have a running news story of any nature all the time now, that's going to cram out that stuff as well.

But what I couldn't stand, and we fought about it every single day, was the Condit story, because we get pushed around by, inadvertently, humorists get pushed around by that _

STEWART. Who makes that call, though? Who says, in terms of _

JENNINGS. Well, ultimately, I would make the call. But it's a foolish editor who goes on day after day making the ultimate call which is not very collegial. If I don't want it on the broadcast, it's not going to get on the broadcast, but that's clearly not the way to behave. So we fought about it every day.

Q. Wait, when you say, we _

JENNINGS. The senior editors on the broadcast, the senior editors on the broadcast. How much Condit do we do a day? Now, that's part because we've got CNN and Fox and all these N's sort of intruding in our national media life. Before that we had the hard copies and notwhat that were pushing the agenda a little. I mean, the front page of The New York Times today is one hell of a lot different than it was 10 years ago. So we're all being moved around.

Q. You mean the naked _

STEWART. He meant not disrespect by that.

JENNINGS. Yes, I did. It's almost over.

STEWART. What he meant to say was that _ loves the color pictures. We don't mind, just please _ have some respect for the host.

JENNINGS. Darling, you did promise I was only going to do this once, right?

Q. No, you're doing it next Friday, it's going to be a regular Friday night.

STEWART. I believe that the 24-hour stations have the room _

JENNINGS. There's a woman out there who really wants me to go to the bathroom.

STEWART. Your program can still remain somewhat pristine and somewhat _

JENNINGS. It's hard some _

STEWART. _ unpolluted. But the 24-hour networks have truly ruined any chance that we had for a balanced informational cycle and all over 400,000 viewers for 12 minutes a pop. So the stakes being that low, disturbing, your decision to show stills was their decision to make the towers coming down a bumper and they ran them as bumpers for God knows how many days. I mean, they literally _ you watch an advertisement for CNN or Fox News right now, it looks like a movie trailer to a disaster movie. And I don't know what their problem is.

JENNINGS. We fought a lot about the flag. We fought a lot about the flag. First of all, we have a very enlightened boss and he concurred immediately that we wouldn't wear flags in our lapels, for the reason we were talking about earlier. You do not wish, in doing my job or our job, my job to be taking a position which is either going to offend or enhance the notion of someone in the audience that you are something. You want to be _ you don't want to have a big hole in the middle of your head _ whereas it works very well for Jon.

And so we fought about the flag, how much flag do you put in your coverage? Some networks put a lot more flag. Do you have a title for your coverage? I fought and lost against having a title for our coverage, and I'm delighted to know that nobody in my company can remember the title of our coverage.

Q. What was it?

JENNINGS. I don't remember, to be honest.

STEWART. America's New War Strikes Back. America Strikes Back at Rink Rage, New War.

JENNINGS. But I think that is the utmost foolishness and it does not _

STEWART. They're so accustomed to having to ramp up nothing into something and sell it. What they've done is they've co-opted marketing value.

JENNINGS. You're taking notes he said, I didn't say that.

STEWART. I said that. And I don't mind saying that.

JENNINGS. But the one that really gets me, and I don't think it serves our communal interest, if you will, for people in journalism to be taking shots at each other, but when CNN calls it the war room instead of the newsroom, I just think it's not getting us anywhere.

Q. Yeah, but you had it, you had a couple of great titles for your war coverage.

STEWART. But we're kidding. Q. No, that's what I mean. I know. I know you're kidding! You think _ I don't think "E.R.'' is a real _ STEWART. We're making fun of him.

Q. I know that. They were hilarious.

STEWART. We had Operation Enduring Coverage.

JENNINGS. I love that.

STEWART. Also, we had America Freaks Out. Literally, there was a time when on CNN and Fox they were changing the title moment to moment. It was America Strikes Back and then they must have had some sort of memo that went around that said, make sure you say the title. When we come back, more on America Strikes Back. What they forgot is this is a real tragedy that actually no longer needs the marketing value _

JENNINGS. Exactly.

STEWART. _ that you needed to put onto Gary Condit.

JENNINGS. Which is great because I see I go to my bosses the next day and you say, look, Stewart's making fun of us.

STEWART. Is that true?

JENNINGS. Don't do it. Of course I use you, of course. Even Stewart is making fun of us.

Q. Oh, my God.

STEWART. No, it is ultimately very disturbing. And now the ticker is the new _ what happened is, Sept. 11 you guys ramped up _ not you guys, but the 24-hours especially _ and they don't know how to ramp down. And we don't _ I'll tell you how you knew you didn't need the ticker anymore, when one of the things that went by was "California Raisins to come back to TV.'' That's when I thought, well, gee, maybe we can stop the ticker now. It really is, the 24-hour, they have too much time to kill so it's five minutes of news and 23 hours 55 minutes of speculation.

JENNINGS. And if you think about how it compounds itself, in a way, we used to go on the air with these ABC News bulletins for really truly monumental occurrences. Then the cables came along, we don't want everybody to go and watch the cable networks all the time, we want to stay on the page, it's one of the reasons we continue to cover presidential news conferences in the daytime, even though it drives people crazy, we take away their soap operas. But it keeps us a legitimate place on the page. But if you watch the networks now, just for this collection of interrupts now, they are not always, by any means, from issues of monumental importance. And that's just the way this sort of general universe has moved. It's tough.

And so they do _ aside from the fact that they're very funny, they do this terrific public service for us. They make us look idiotic when we are being idiotic.

STEWART. But why can't someone then go, you know what we should stop being? Idiotic. Why can't someone at CNN say that, because it's not _ or Fox or MSNBC or CNBC, there's like five little parallel genetic offshoots of NBC. There's three C-SPAN's. I mean I understand the one, you want to see what's going on in the Senate. But then the second one is like subcommittees and then the third one is just literally _


STEWART. Books, yeah.

Q. Well, don't take that one off.

STEWART. But I'm just saying that it's, at a certain point they're fighting each other.

Q. Do you think that we should issue a position paper coming out of this meeting tonight saying, let's close down CNN and MSNBC?

STEWART. Honestly, not close them down. Make them a shopping channel and then every now and again when there's something to say, break in. But to keep literally _ and I don't mean to harp on this, but _

JENNINGS. Go ahead, harp, harp, harp.

STEWART. _ they have people on that say this, "Are we prepared for nuclear war? We'll find out.'' And then they'll come back. See you stay in and then they'll have five guys, you know, "I'm the director of shit on a shingle,'' I'm Crappy McCrapington,'' and then they'll go, "This country, I don't believe, is really prepared for nuclear war.'' Well, what country's prepared? Oh, that's right, we live above ground.

So it's this speculative swell. "Do the terrorists have a nuclear bomb? We'll be right back.''

Q. But how do you fix it? I mean, these guys are there, they're on all the time.

STEWART. You fix it the same way Peter just said: We decided not to run the images of the towers coming down, we ran stills. You use judgment and restraint instead of _

JENNINGS. If you could see the little _ like in the cartoons _ if you could see the little bulb over my head now it would say in it, "Just let Jon keep talking, he's doing a great job.''

STEWART. I don't mean to get ired, but it's simple common sense. It's removing the news business from the entertainment business. CNN isn't E!, it never should be. I'm a comedian, I'm a guy with a thing and a little monkey dancing, that's what I am.

Q. Really?

STEWART. Hopefully CNN isn't. We look to them. The importance of news and news anchors was never more evident on Sept. 11, but if he hadn't had the credibility built up to come on the air and tell a nation what was happening, that would be a true disservice to the country. And what those networks do is erode the credibility of anchors and they make them into me. And that's bad for _ that's not just bad for _

JENNINGS. Sign it right there, would you. Thanks. You know, I grabbed this notebook in a hurry, the last time I used it was at the Gore-Bradley debate. Now I have your signature.

STEWART. Hey, how about him growing a beard right after the attacks? What political acumen. What was that? Being attacked by fundamentalist Muslims and goes at home, now would be a good time to grow a beard. Hmm.

I don't mean to _ I know that that sounds didactic and the whole thing. But I truly do believe it's actually an important issue, not just a silly _

JENNINGS. Move him on, Julie, move him.

STEWART. Move me on, yeah. Because I'll be ...

JENNINGS. Go to the Q and A.

Q. What you don't to be praised anymore? You don't want to pound him anymore?

STEWART. He's a good man. We need that sort of thing.

Q. One of the things I was wondering, during the whole post-Sept. 11 _

JENNINGS. Secret of being good moderators: never let antagonism disappear altogether.

Q. Oh, you're embarrassed. It's too much because you're a little red, I notice that.

JENNINGS. Yes, I am embarrassed.

Q. After Sept. 11, I think that there was so much focus on just following the events of the day and listening to Rumsfeld and Bush and Cheney and just sort of following the pieces around or finding the board and then the pieces, and now we have Enron and it's a whole other kind of involvement of the president. What's it been like to make the shift back towards a sort of more, I guess, critical coverage of the government?

JENNINGS. Now, it's easier than it was several weeks ago. We went for weeks in which we did nothing but this and the whole thing, Afghanistan, went week after week after week. And we would come every day to the table with other things going on in the world and every day they would get pushed off the broadcast by, very often, by mostly legitimate stuff. We weren't sort of bleeding over the story, it was just really interesting, dimension after dimension after dimension, piece after piece after piece. And we don't have a lot of time. I mean, I'd kill for the cable time a lot of time.

And then we began deliberately to put in other national news, other international news, almost force feeding ourselves to put a little in every day. So by the time we come to the Enron story, which, I agree with you, is a _ you're going to have fun with this one. This is a very _ you notice how circumspect I was there. But it's a fascinating story.

So we led tonight, our first two pieces of the broadcast were Enron and we did an Afghan package _ the prisoners arriving in Guantanamo _ as a minor component of the broadcast today. So in some respects we feel now, unless something major happens either in the general war against terrorism or in Afghanistan _ you know, if a soldier is killed in Afghanistan now, we did a _ there was a funeral today in Washington State for the soldier. And I'm thinking to myself how enormous, how much coverage there's been over a single casualty and that the French and the British, who send their soldiers to war expecting them to be killed _

STEWART. Because theirs suck.

JENNINGS. Would be really _ I'm going to go right past that as _ would be really surprised at how much coverage we've given to the first casualty under hostile fire. But again, we'll get through that, too, I think in terms of how much coverage we give things.

Q. Were there discussions on whether it was appropriate to criticize the administration in other aspects of governing during the post-September _

JENNINGS. Sure, sure. And that's a worth a whole Ph.D. thesis, because you _ I was seen to criticize the president in the first couple of days because Rush Limbaugh said on the air that I'd said something that I hadn't said. And I spent three and a half days with my phone off the hook and various people at ABC having to answer phone calls of thousands and thousands of angry people, making it very clear how passionate some people in the country felt about criticizing the president. And the country generally, this is true, the editorial pages and of the daily coverage, move closer to seeing the president and the administration in a slightly more objective way, and being less aware the country is at war.

And there is sometimes, I think, too much jumping on the patriotic bandwagon by journalists, which is _

Q. That's what I was going to _ yeah, I think _

JENNINGS. Which is always tough. But now, of course, the Enron story comes along and the corner has been quite definitively turned, I think. And the Democrats have helped in this respect because they've tried _ because we're coming up on another election _ they've made, smartly so far, they've made a domestic agenda overhear in which it's legitimate to go after the president while not going after the president's seal on the conduct of the war. And I think most people believe that he was very much the right man in the right time, in the right place at the right time. Al Gore's staff thinks that.

Q. They don't like the beard either, huh?


Q. So Jon, for you, just strictly from a material perspective, who's your favorite person in the administration? Just as somebody to do jokes about?

STEWART. You know we don't, honestly, we really don't think like that.

Q. It's always based on a story or an event.

STEWART. Pretty much so. I mean, I think _

Q. Well, who's given you the most material? Let me put it that way.

STEWART. Within the administration?

Q. Yeah.

STEWART. Ashcroft, probably, because he's the most caricatured, he's the most extreme. He's the most _ from the barbershop quartet to anybody who eats a falafel has to be detained for five hours. There's a broad spectrum of material to be had from that. Like I say _

JENNINGS. Rumsfeld a good character to _

STEWART. Rumsfeld is not. Rumsfeld is, he's fun to watch as a viewer, but he's not necessarily a great character for satire right now, for us. That doesn't meant _ you know, the prosecution of the war is not really that _ for satire right now.

Q. You mean right now. A couple of months _

STEWART. No, what was more interesting was the reaction, I think, on the domestic front to the terrorism: the Ashcroft, we have a high alert. We don't know why, but for those of you who were merely alert, we're asking you to please take it up a notch. That was _ that's the sort of thing that _

JENNINGS. Which is almost a literal description _ literal description _ of what's been happening. Now, do we go on the air with another Ashcroft warning? Local police departments all over the country hate it when he does it. But his ability to help us see Ashcroft _ the attorney general, he said politely _ in a context of which the public _ this is where the public sometimes sees him, there's a certain parallelism here that is unusual.

STEWART. See, I believe that something very interesting has emerged from the crisis, which is the power of the distracted center. And that's what I believe we represent is the distracted center. It's the people that I believe are moderate, reasonable, commonsensical people who really don't have much of a say in the day-to-day workings of our government because we have lawns to mow and children to raise and things to do. And so in general this country moves forward or backwards on 10 percent of the population versus 8 percent of the population. I mean, the truth is most people in this room don't care if gay people are allowed to get married. But people who really care and the people who don't are the ones fighting it out.

JENNINGS. Most people in this house don't even care that they're here.

STEWART. Is that true? But you know what I'm saying? It's this country's moved by the extremities, by the right and the left. And what happened in the aftermath of the terrorist attack is the distracted center focused and then what came out of that was statesmanship and regularity. Does that _ I don't even know if I'm making sense?

Q. Yeah. No, it makes sense.

STEWART. Seriously?

Q. Yes.

STEWART. You want a piece of this, is that what you're saying? I mean, I think most people in the world are relatively moderate, but relatively busy.

Q. I think more than that, I think most people are insular. They're just involved in their lives. That's what it is.

STEWART. That's what I mean. And the issues of the day are not important enough to remove yourself from your life to take care of it.

Q. But what's happened _ I was thinking about all those _ two months ago, I mean really as recently as two months ago we were being scared every day by something, there were one of these vague warnings. And anthrax was everywhere. And now _

STEWART. Which, by the way, they were sending to mailrooms. Like it doesn't suck enough to work in the mailroom.

Q. Well, what really bummed me, before Christmas they're doing "Miracle of 34th Street,'' the whole prop line of the movie is about proving that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus and they have to bring in all the bags of mail from the post office. And I thought, oh, great. Kris Kringle will go to jail now with anthrax. But happened to all the anthrax? It just vanished. Or has it vanished or are you not reporting it now?

JENNINGS. No, I think we report it. I think that _ I would have said that the anthrax thing was the one thing that got away from us, the one story that got away from us. STEWART. Didn't seem like that.


Q. No, but since then _

JENNINGS. We had an anthrax incident in our office of the son of one of my colleagues. So everybody in the media, every one of the major news organizations had anthrax. And it was interesting and we watched all of the authorities learn on the job. Like first the newspaper in Florida, then NBC, then us, then CBS _ I've forgotten exact order. But we were like about third in line. And you could see they were learning, they'd learn a little from the first and they'd learn some more. By the time they got around to CBS and Rather, it was like, the hell with it, don't take anything. But I think that having it in your own office made us very cautious about the way we treated the story. But there was some pretty rampant, reckless reporting, I thought, about anthrax, too.

STEWART. We are, as a fake news organization, we're actually sent fake anthrax. Look, they're not all gems, people. I'm getting tired, too.

Q. Oh, do we have a question?

AUDIENCE. Yes, I have a question. Mr. Stewart, most of us really appreciate _

STEWART. Psych _ excuse me just one second. Psych! Mr. Stewart, he said.

Q. You lost your mike.

STEWART. I'm sorry. Yes, my friend. What is your question, my friend?

AUDIENCE. It's a 10-minute dissertation.

STEWART. It's a mitzvah, your question.

AUDIENCE. Most people, I'm sure, appreciate your lightness in the treatment of day-to-day events, because that's why they tune in your show and they're looking for that. Many of us appreciate and look at the seriousness of life and Peter Jennings and the great cadre of people that report the news, we appreciate that as well. But so often it seems to us, many of us, that news is only made if it's bad news or exciting to the point that somebody gets hurt, there's a drastic situation, it's a serious devastation. And it seems like we sort of overlook the good news in life, and there is so much of it. And I know that we can't change the whole news media, but why can't we, perhaps, report a little more of that good news?

STEWART. That's an excellent question. You know, I was reading "Chicken Soup For the Soul'' recently _ because I think what has happened here and, if I may and again whatever retarded thought I had on it _ but what it looks like, when news became a ratings chase, news became like a children _ did you ever watch 7-year-olds play soccer, 7-year-olds play soccer? Soccer is game where 11 people are on the field on each side and each person has one particular part of the field that they guard and you stay in position and you spread the field and the ball moves beautifully. When 7-year-olds play soccer they go, "The ball!'' phwew, and then the ball gets kicked over there and they go, "The ball!'' And I believe what has happened is in their chase for the story they forgot their positions on the field and they just go, wink, and they run around in a little clump. And I think that's why you find that it has narrowed its focus and lost sight of. And again, I think credit goes to _

JENNINGS. Do you really think this is a serious answer to this man's historic question?


JENNINGS. O.K., I just wanted to _

STEWART. My good friend Noam Chomsky once said _ it's an inflexibility. I remember after Columbine there was a news release that I read that talked about CBS breaking the story. What? It was Columbine. What, you got there 10 seconds before everybody else? But that is the mentality. It's become a race. And I think that gentleman has an excellent point and it's a shame. News should be immune from the vagaries of what entertainment goes through.

JENNINGS. I think, also, just that your definition of what's good news/bad news is lacking a little bit. I mean, we get mail all the time from people who ask us to do what you've just asked: would we please do more good news. And it's hard to know what the definition of good news is sometimes. News historically has been the aberration. We don't go to airports and watch planes land safely. We tend to go to airports when planes crash. And that's closer to the definition of news. We do when dog bites man, that's a measure of news; when man bites dog, that's great news. So it is, it's just it tends to be the aberration rather than the norm in society.

But you will actually find people in the business who make a fetish of doing good news and telling the audience, we're doing the good news about America today, or the good news about pimples or whatever it is. So it's hard, because I'm not altogether sure what you mean about good news/bad news.

STEWART. I think part of the issue is not even so much whether it's good news or bad news, it's the context in which it's presented, and that is there is, I think, a skewed _ you can have a sense that a lot of the media can drive what the country is concerned about. For instance, before Sept. 11, I don't think terrorism was, obviously, high on the list. But before that even, they're the ones who tell us the economy is failing. And then the very next day do a poll on consumer confidence. Well, gee, you told me yesterday it was failing so when they called me I said I felt shitty about the economy. So in other words, they create a cycle of cause and effect within itself. It's a strange, it's a strange _

JENNINGS. Polls are very _ polling's a wonderful science, great in politics. But it is sometimes in journalism a substitute for reporting. And it does _ STEWART. And speculation is as well.

JENNINGS. And we put it on the news and people do the next day say, well, I saw it was bad so I _ it is bad.

Q. O.K. Do you have another question? Somebody over year. AUDIENCE. Yeah, this is for all three of you. I was just wondering if you thought Paula Zahn was sexy?

JENNINGS. What was the question?

STEWART. Is Paula Zahn sexy? I think I clearly speak for everybody when I say she's no Lynn Russell. Did you see the commercials, the Paula Zahn zipper commercial.

Q. Yeah.

JENNINGS. I did, I did.

Q. Peter's maintaining silence here.

STEWART. Oh, O.K., O.K. Shall I take this one?

JENNINGS. You take this one.

STEWART. That was the most honest commercial CNN's ever run.

Q. Sir, in the green shirt.

AUDIENCE. Jon, I just wanted to let you know, the clip you saw of you before you described as a cathartic moment for you. Our cathartic moment came a couple of weeks later when the president was in China and you managed to do a piece _

STEWART. Ha, ha, I remember that.

AUDIENCE. _ on the jacket. And that was a cathartic moment because it was O.K. to make fun of the president again.

STEWART. Right, right.

AUDIENCE. And I wanted to thank you for that.

STEWART. You're very welcome. Listen, hopefully he'll don another Nehru pajama top and we'll do what we got to do again.

AUDIENCE. Did you get a lot of reaction to that story?

STEWART. Sir, we're on basic cable. I don't get a lot of reaction to any story.

JENNINGS. Even takes my calls.

AUDIENCE. Comparatively speaking.

STEWART. I mean, the interesting thing is _ and this is the other thing is _ every news station you do now, every news organization says, tell us what you think. E-mail us, we want to know. Well, where I work, we really don't give a shit. So we do what we do and if you like it, we're more than happy to have you watch. But you'll never see at the bottom, "Where is bin Laden? Cast your vote at'' _ that's not for us.

Q. Do you have a question?

AUDIENCE. I'm wondering what both of you think about what'll happen if cameras are allowed in the courtroom for the upcoming trial of the alleged suspect.

STEWART. Musa-what?

JENNINGS. Musawei[sp?].

STEWART. Musawei.

JENNINGS. Lacareas[sp?] Musawei.

STEWART. Show off.

JENNINGS. Go ahead, say it. This is _

STEWART. Zach-moose. You would obviously use the footage. Here's a question: you know the cockpit voice recorder that they played from Flight 93?


STEWART. Why did they play the voices? Why didn't they just read along, because the voices of it, I thought, sensationalized it and exploited it and made me sad.

JENNINGS. I think it probably made you _ it cut into your imagination, you wanted to imagine it one way.

STEWART. No, no, I didn't want to hear the moment _ I didn't want it to be so human. I wanted it to be _

JENNINGS. So in an ... it was sort of undermining your perception of what it was.

STEWART. Right, maybe.

JENNINGS. That's again, a call every time.

STEWART. Right. Was that something that had to be _

JENNINGS. Yeah, absolutely. Tough ... Can I _ I was just going to tell you how much power the anchorperson has. Once the anchorperson has pronounced something, like Lacareas Musawei, everyone else in the news division has to pronounce it the same way. I was in Iran during the revolution and I actually knew how to pronounce Saude Gobsaude[sp?], but Walter Cronkite didn't and everybody at CBS, whatever Walter said on any given night _ and some nights he'd say goat's breath _ everybody else at CBS had to say exactly what he said. So on a thing like _ I sometimes try to pronounce it in the most complicated and impossible way, even with a little accent sometimes so that all my correspondent suffer having to sound _ no.

I think cameras in the courtroom are totally legitimate journalistic tools. They should be in courtrooms, they should be in local courtrooms, state courtrooms, federal courtrooms. It was interesting in this case to see this judge buy into the notion that it would disrupt this particular trial and put witnesses at risk, which sounds a little bit like she's going in the direction of the prosecution's resistance to having cameras in the courtroom. But I think the O.J. Simpson trial, exterior behavior notwithstanding, cameras belong in courtrooms in this day and age.

Q. Jon?

STEWART. I agree. I think, unfortunately, that the First Amendment probably gives you the _ unfortunately the First Amendment doesn't come with responsibility like it should in that the footage that we get and receive is misused on a daily basis and exploited and would be so within that _ is it a legitimate tool? Absolutely. Would it be enlightening? Absolutely. Would it be misused and exploited? No question. And it's a shame that that would occur, based, again, on what we talked about earlier.

JENNINGS. Exploited by some, I think.

STEWART. Yeah. No, I don't mean everybody, obviously.

AUDIENCE. In terms of the media thing, what about the copycat people? Do you think about that at all?

STEWART. Copycat? You mean Fox?

JENNINGS. Oh, you mean the copycat criminals? Thought you were talking about Jon again.

STEWART. Copycat criminal acts based on?

AUDIENCE. Based on overexposure from the media of things that happen?

JENNINGS. Do you want to try to phrase the question?

STEWART. I think it's a great red herring. I mean, I think what you're asking is by the repetition and the inundation of the image does it inspire others to create a similar act.

AUDIENCE. Like with anthrax. It's like, oh, O.K., now everybody's got this idea so let's just start sending _

STEWART. Right, but the people you're talking about are crazy. You're talking about crazy people. And if you removed all images from crazy people they'd find _ if we ran on T.V. the film "Mary Poppins'' 24 hours a day, someone would sit at home going, "Must kill nannies.'' Like it's just not _ there's crazy people. Go by overpasses, people throw rocks over them. There's nothing _ you can't _ it's a red herring, the idea that image and things. The same people who don't want to curtail any images also want gun control. It's the same thing. Crazy people use guns wrong, crazy people use images wrong.

JENNINGS. I agree with my learned colleague.


Q. Question?

AUDIENCE. Jon brought up a good point that we look at Peter for the news and the serious issues and then we turn for Jon, he's an educated frat brother and we feel comfortable watching him and he's funny and he provides the spin. But for you, Peter, how can you find that you can differentiate yourself from the other news anchors, because you are reporting the same stories? How can you provide spin but keeping the story line true to fact?

JENNINGS. Well, first of all, I'd just like to point out I'm not as much as a still as Jon keeps trying to portray me.

STEWART. Stop it. You are, don't sell yourself short. Please, please.

JENNINGS. Honest to God, you haven't got much time to think about that. I mean, on a big obvious story every day, if you look at CBS, NBC and ABC _ it's certainly true if you look at CBS and ABC _ we'll lead pretty much the same way. NBC has, what might be called, a more populist broadcast in some respects and so they might lead another way. It's only when you begin _ you have to watch broadcasts for a long time to understand, to get any sense of their character. And it usually comes after the first segment, after the first news hole. What do we pay attention to? Do we pay attention to foreign affairs? Do we pay attention to health? Do we do technology? Do we do feel-good news? But it takes a long time. It takes a long time to become accustomed and get any sense of a news organization that you may want to watch over a long period of time. I don't think the anchors have a whole heck of a _ don't forget we're editors. What you really _ people seldom think _ you ask when I go to work. Some people think we show up at quarter to six, put the makeup on, read it and go home. And that I'm really David Hartmann[sp?]. But the answer is we're editors all day long and then we write and then we read. So you really see the anchor at work in the selection of what is on the news broadcast.

STEWART. Except for Rather, who's just nuts. You told me that. He never said that, I was kidding.

AUDIENCE. I'm reminded, about a year ago, during the Tony's when Mel Brooks won for "The Producers'' and goes gallumping up on stage _

STEWART. Sir, I'm sorry, just leave your head shot at the door, we'll get back to you.

AUDIENCE. I'll get you, Stewart. And so Mel Brooks is like, he's giving his speech and he puts his comb under his nose and says, I'd like to thank Hitler for being such a funny guy. And in subsequent interviews after that was talking about the use of satire as bringing down an opponent, not just as like a self-defense mechanism, but as a weapon.

STEWART. C.S. Lewis sort of was the one who mocked the devil because he hates to be mocked. And I think that that is a valid issue.

JENNINGS. Could you at least wait for his question?


AUDIENCE. So now, after Sept. 11 with a new _ The Onion comes out, as an offensive weapon as well do you think there is a point when satire stops being a self-defense mechanism and starts being a tool to bring down an opponent.

JENNINGS. Does everyone here know what The Onion is?

STEWART. Use satire as an offensive weapon. Like a wit bomb, that kind of thing? A gut-busting bomb? I think that satire would be overrated to say that it's an offensive weapon. I think it's a tension reliever, I think it's a mood enhancer. But the truth is there are people out there who are working _ it's fun to go in and write jokes and say things, but more importantly are people who go out and actually do things, more than _

JENNINGS. No, I actually think you're being a bit modest. I think that if you read The Onion _ if you read, which is uncharacteristic _

STEWART. Thank you.

JENNINGS. If you read The Onion or if you watch Jon pick too _

STEWART. Stewart, Jon Stewart.

JENNINGS. The next day it is quite possible that a public figure who's been done by them will appear in the general public consciousness to be a little more vulnerable, and therefore the satire, in fact, has accomplished for a wider universe, I think sometimes, that which it actually intended.


Q. You know, I think on that note _

JENNINGS. We'll get out of here.

Q. Yeah, that was _

STEWART. I honestly have to pee like a madman.

Q. We thank you, you guys were wonderful. Thank you so much.


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Thanks to Kelly for the article.

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