What lousy timing — Jon Stewart exits as The Donald rises

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 Last Thursday night, Donald Trump (left) took center stage at the Republican presidential debate and John Stewart exited stage left after a 16-year run on The Daily Show. (AP file photos)

Last Thursday night, Donald Trump (left) took center stage at the Republican presidential debate and John Stewart exited stage left after a 16-year run on The Daily Show. (AP file photos)

Jon Stewart doesn’t have a job. Donald Trump is leading presidential polls.

People, don’t we have this … backwards?

Last Thursday night, popular culture and politics intertwined amazingly — as they will in America.

Trump took center stage, with full bombast, in the first big televised debate of the presidential season. And Stewart exited classily stage left, ending a 16-year run as the indispensable anchor of the nation’s indispensable faux news show.

Trump is famous partly for berating faux employees on reality TV, before dismissing them with a trademark bark: “You’re fired!”

Stewart, by contrast, spent almost the full hour of his farewell show graciously deflecting the spotlight from himself onto the Daily’s Show’s backstage staff and its supporting cast of “senior correspondents.”

Trump and other candidates in the debate had some good moments — if by that you mean delivering prepared one-liners that exposed another candidate’s hypocrisy or lack of vision.

In other words, the candidates managed to do one time, with huge staff support, what Stewart has done for 30 minutes, 180 times a year, for 16 years. In another delicious coincidence, the debate was on Fox News, the cable propaganda machine with which Stewart has dueled doggedly for more than a decade.

On Thursday, when the last chord from the Boss and the E Street Band rang out in The Daily Show‘s New York studio, I had to pause a second to name the emotion I felt.

It was … sadness.

Stewart left the gig you want people who have enriched your lives to leave — a moment too soon, not years too late, with generosity and spirit, not egomania and score-settling. But he leaves a void that we’ll feel; I do believe the word for the way he fought back against the rising tide of toxic B.S. in our political discourse is “heroic.”

A final comment: Stewart et al. sometimes did annoy me, with those smugly mocking field interviews of foolish people, and particularly with how naive his critiques of journalism could be. God knows practitioners of my craft need frequent kicks in the pants, which Stewart regularly and usefully delivered.

But sometimes he seemed confused about how and where watchdog journalism gets done  i.e. not in the White House press room. It’s not really, true, you know, that if only White House reporters asked better news conference questions, presidents would break down like witnesses in the last scene of Law and Order and sob, “It’s true. I lied and people died.” 

No, the reporting that ends up holding power accountable gets done quietly and often quite tediously and laboriously, far away from the lights and cameras.

But every time I thought to write that commentary, something stayed my fingers over the keyboard. It was my overriding respect for the guy’s guts, integrity and comic genius.

So I’m glad these are probably the last words I’ll write about Jon Stewart: Farewell and thank you. You did good, and you did right by the republic.

 

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