JULIE SALAMON (Q).
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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''
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
JENNINGS. He's discouraging me, you notice
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
JENNINGS. Everybody was American on the 11th,
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
Q. Yourself, self-censorship. Or Comedy Central's
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''
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
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
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
JENNINGS. You like to be called _ I've never
thought what to _ humorist? You don't like to be called a comedian,
STEWART. Anything but kikey.
Q. x x x do people out there want to ask your
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.
AUDIENCE VOICE. Keep going.
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
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
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
STEWART. I said that. And I don't mind saying
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 _
STEWART. _ that you needed to put onto Gary
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
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.
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
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?
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
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. 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
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.
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
AUDIENCE. Did you get a lot of reaction to
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.
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.