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
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
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."