"'Daily Show' Has Become TV's Don't-Miss"
The Contra Costa Times
May 2, 2003
by Bill Mann


DURING THE WAR in Iraq, ratings of cable-news stations in the Bay Area shot up, just as in the rest of the country. War-news-hungry viewers flocked to Rupert Murdoch's conservative Fox News Channel and CNN. KTVU general manager Jeff Block pointed out to me that Fox News usually won the local ratings despite reaching fewer cable viewers here. MSNBC was a distant third.

But one non-news cable channel -- or show, actually -- was also indispensable during the war: Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," airing weeknights at 5:30 and 11 p.m. Stewart recently re-signed to do the show through next year's elections -- the best piece of political news in some time. The Peabody-winning "Daily Show," a topical faux newscast, was already as funny as anything on television. But it truly hit its stride during the three-week war with some of its strongest, best-written shows ever. For its consistent excellence last month, "The Daily Show" deserves a bunch of Emmys.

Stewart is such a talented, bright and funny host the show's original anchor, Craig Kilborn, now seems a distant memory.

Thanks to his writing staff, Stewart's material during the war was far stronger than either Jay Leno's or David Letterman's. Most notably, Stewart and company were quick to seize upon some of the media's worst excesses in covering the war. And Fox News Channel in particular, thanks to its cheerleading-anchor approach, provided plenty of material for "The Daily Show."

It did not escape comedian Stewart's notice, for example, that Fox shamelessly used American troops to do its promos: "Soldiers doing station ID's," said Stewart with a bemused grin after showing Fox footage. "Kudos to Fox News for treating the American soldier like a Morning Zoo team treats Jewel."

"This war has totally belonged to Fox," said Stewart. "Not only did they start it." (big laugh). The ever-bemused Stewart then showed the actual Fox News footage of one dubious segment -- the bombing of Baghdad, set to music. (I'm not making this up.) Stewart's staff substituted a hip-hop soundtrack of the same footage of cruise missiles exploding. Reductio ad absurdum.

When Iraqi TV went back on the air under American stewardship, Stewart reported that one of its new shows was called "Trading Rubble."

The day of the famous Saddam statue-toppling in Baghdad, Stewart couldn't resist putting a comedic spin on the footage, announcing, "Clearly it was a great moment. But let us also remember that somewhere in Iraq there's a sculptor who worked very, very hard on that statue." At this point, Stewart began mock-whimpering. (Note: Fox, true to form, has reported that the sculptor lived in Italy.)

"A prediction for post-war Iraq," Stewart then added. "The sculpting community there will experience a renaissance in subject matter."

Over several news clips of Iraqis looting chairs from office buildings, Stewart deadpanned, "Obviously the biggest problem during Saddam's regime was seating."


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