×

Watch: Jon Stewart Skewers Media Hypocrisy In Brian Williams Coverage

No, Jon Stewart did not punt or “soft glove” covering the Brian Williams story, as it was suggested he might on Salon, citing his friendly relationship with the NBC News anchor. But the Comedy Central host did widen the lens and, as some other voices have, refract the pile-on over Williams’ inaccurate account back onto the media in general.

On Monday’s show — Stewart’s first since Williams pulled himself off the air, while NBC investigates the misleading claims he made regarding his reporting from Iraq — “The Daily Show” host labeled Williams’ differing versions of what happened “Infotainment Confusion Syndrome,” citing the conflicting roles Williams occupies as a celebrity, yukking it up with David Letterman, and a newsman.

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,The Daily Show on Facebook

Spinning yarns in those talk settings, Stewart noted, stimulates the brain’s “applause center,” which might explain why a news account would get inflated and distorted in a more entertaining, self-aggrandizing way.

Notably, Stewart made no apologies for Williams (the piece was chyron-ed “Bri Wi Hot Spot”), who also was ribbed on Larry Wilmore’s companion Comedy Central half-hour and by Conan O’Brien (“Brian Williams won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word in the Fiction category. At least I think he did — that’s what he told me”). Bill O’Reilly also defended Williams on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Still, it was Stewart who turned the discussion back upon those media outlets expressing righteous indignation about Williams’ transgressions, essentially asking where they were when so many dutifully repeated Bush administration spin during the run-up to invading Iraq. Or as Stewart put it, pointedly, referencing Williams, “Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war.”

Stewart’s clips included former New York Times editor Bill Keller and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, both giving themselves passing grades for Iraq coverage in hindsight, with Blitzer suggesting that journalism is merely a first draft of history.

The media frenzy surrounding Williams has hardly subsided, but it has given way to additional reflection that goes beyond the particulars of this case. Some of that, admittedly, can sound naive, such as the New York Times’ David Brooks, citing the “barbaric” nature of the modern reaction to scandals; or National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who lamented the “charge of the bile brigade” unleashed in response to such stories before moving on to some new outrage. “My hope is that as the new platforms evolve, the public will adapt and technology will be used as it has so many times in the past: To educate and unite the masses,” Fournier wrote, overlooking that we’re still largely in the peasants-with-pitchforks phase.

Stewart could easily be accused of the same kind of idealism in trying to shift the focus off Williams, just a bit, to one of his favorite topics: journalism’s broader failings.

To some, attempting to turn the spotlight simply represents a means of defending Williams, but Stewart didn’t offer any alibi for the anchor. Instead, he seemed to be intent on injecting a level of perspective into the coverage that, frankly, remains one of the program’s invaluable strengths in these situations.

Because the truth is if media outlets want to fairly capture all the implications of the still-unfolding Williams story — beyond the specifics of whether the NBC News star has irrevocably damaged his career through an unnecessary lie — they’re going to need a bigger mirror.

More TV

  • Outlander 507

    The 'Outlander' Death That Brought 'An Unexpected Wave of Emotion' (SPOILERS)

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” the seventh episode of “Outlander” Season 5. The latest “Outlander” episode was simply heartbreaking with one confirmed death and one fate left quite literally hanging in the balance. Both book readers and non-book readers alike have been aware for [...]

  • Mergers and Deals Placeholder

    Tegna Confirms Two Acquisition Offers Withdrawn Amid Coronavirus Upheaval

    Tegna confirmed Sunday that two suitors for the station group have recently withdrawn acquisition offers, citing the upheaval in the broader marketplace caused by the coronavirus crisis. Tegna’s statement is the company’s first acknowledgement that it has received four unsolicited acquisition offers in recent weeks. Two of those have since been withdrawn while the other [...]

  • David Schramm

    David Schramm, Star on NBC's 'Wings,' Dies at 73

    David Schramm, a stage actor who was also a star on the NBC comedy “Wings,” has died. He was 73. Schramm was a founding member of New York’s The Acting Company, which announced the news of his death on Sunday. He played Roy Biggins, the rival airline owner on “Wings,” and appeared in all 172 [...]

  • Photos of CBS News anchors, correspondents

    Maria Mercader, CBS News Veteran, Dies at 54 Due to Coronavirus

    Maria Mercader, whose work at CBS News helped deliver the division’s breaking news from the U.S. and around the world to viewers, died Sunday due to coronavirus, CBS News said. She was 54 years old and had been on medical leave for an unrelated matter since the last week in February. CBS News said Mercader  [...]

  • Jeanine Pirro

    Fox News Defends Odd 'Judge Jeanine' Broadcast, Citing 'Technical Difficulties'

    Many viewers noticed something was off during Saturday’s episode of “Justice With Judge Jeanine,” particularly host Jeanine Pirro’s disheveled appearance and slurred speech at times. However, a Fox News spokesperson said that “technical difficulties” marred the show’s first at-home broadcast. “Jeanine Pirro was broadcasting from her home for the first time when she encountered several [...]

  • Trisha Yearwood and Garth BrooksMusiCares Person

    Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood Sign On for Impromptu Live CBS Special

    The live-stream home concerts that have become more of a phenomenon during the coronavirus crisis are now crossing over to prime-time TV. In what is being described as an outgrowth of the kind of web shows that Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood have already done, CBS has scheduled an hour-long special, “Garth & Trisha Live!,” [...]

  • Tiger King

    'Tiger King' Ranks as TV's Most Popular Show Right Now, According to Rotten Tomatoes

    Netflix has a tiger tale that has punched into the zeitgeist with “Tiger King,” stocked with a cast of real-life bizarre personalities and sinister plot twists. “Tiger Tale,” a true-crime-style docuseries that debuted March 20 on Netflix, ranks as the most popular current TV show, according to Rotten Tomatoes. It has a 97% critic’s rating [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content