• Breakfast with Jon Stewart, Part Three

    Read Part One and Two of this story.

    Okay, let's do this. As someone noted in the comments yesterday, three posts spread over three days to describe one breakfast is ridiculous. You can see why I write for a comedy blog and not a major newspaper. I haven't yet learned how to distill a story down to a bite-sized misrepresentation of reality to please an eager readership. But I'm working on it.

    So, here's twenty or so of the top dead tree news people in the country gathered around a breakfast table asking a short scraggly comedian how they can do their jobs better and rise above the fray of discourse set by the cable news networks. You can argue that they were just doing their jobs, prodding him for statements, and writing down his quippiest quotes to pepper into their stories. But that's not what it looked like in the room.

    Michael and I — really just lucky to be there and in no position to balk — had the very worst seats in the room; we were set up about seven feet behind Jon. These were, ironically, also the best seats in the room. Incapable of seeing Jon's reactions or expressions as he talked, we were forced, instead, to study the reactions and expressions of his guests. And they were, for the most part, adoring.

    And there's nothing wrong with that. I adore Jon Stewart. A huge demographic of the country adores Jon Stewart. As one of the journalists pointed out, the candidates themselves adore Jon Stewart — or at least the huge adoring demographic that he delivers — admitting in the previously mentioned off-the-record dinner dates that Daily Show appearance factor, in no small way, into their campaign plans. And the reason that so many people adore Jon Stewart the decency, honesty and intelligence he projects. And though he's famously loathe to admit it, I think he knows this. And — in that breakfast meeting at least — he seemed to use that understanding as an opportunity to speak from a position of authority to the main authorities of journalism. This was an informal breakfast chat — with no recording devices of any kind, except paper and pen (sorry to tell you) — because it was never intended for public consumption. This, to me, seemed to be Jon Stewart's heartfelt beg to the information carriers to live up to their responsibilities. And, from my vantage point, those in attendance seemed comfortable with the room's dynamic. They seemed eager to glean from Stewart whatever the secrets to whatever magic it is that gives him the right to speak to them with such authority.

    Which is not to say that they didn't push back when they felt their egos being stepped upon. After Jon pointed out the problem of dining off the record and fostering personal relationships with the politicians they need to report on (namely that a personal like or dislike of them of human beings, irrespective of their political actions, can't help but seep into their reporting), one of the journalists quipped something like, "But John McCain makes such great ribs." To which Jon responded with his chiding (and not trying to be funny) question, "Why do I take this more seriously than you?"

    And this brings us to the most baffling — and genuinely disturbing — exchange of the morning.

    I wish I had an exact quote for this, but I don't, so here's my best approximation: One of the guests asked, in all sincerity: I know you're not running for office and this isn't an off-the-record conversation, but what is the difference between us having off-the-record relationships with the candidates and sitting here talking with you this morning.

    The room went quiet. Like I said, I couldn't see Jon's face, but the back of his head looked appalled and amazed. "Don't give me that stare!" the question-asker demanded jokingly.

    After a few back-and-forths in which Jon tried to make the reporter understand the absurdity of his question, Jon pointed out that, for a journalist, an inability to see the difference between talking to Jon Stewart in a room full of other reporters taking notes and shooting the shit with a man who may be given the authority to deploy American troops into another country is dangerous in the extreme.

    The guest, obviously embarrassed, tried to justify his question by pointing out that though Stewart doesn't have troops, he does have correspondents to deploy.

    That's your Fourth Estate at work, America.

    Shortly after that, the meeting was wrapped up. Everybody lingered to thank Jon for his time and talk to him one-on-one for a minute. Once the meeting was officially over, Jon seemed to shrink back into his nervous self and out of his position of authority, hugging himself for comfort as he exchanged politenesses with the journalists.

    And then I came back to my hotel room and took three days writing an overly-long, poorly-structured and rambling account of what I witnessed. For the record — despite what Governor Kaine thinks — this blog is not associated with the Daily Show except that we both live under the Comedy Central umbrella. I am not representing Jon Stewart in any way, shape or form. I am just a fan of many years who got a really, really lucky break in scoring an invite.

    If you're still reading this, thank you very much for your patience. I didn't intend to belabor this article as much as I did.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go write a post about whether or not Democrats fart louder than Republicans.

    My job is awesome.

    Tags: Democratic National Convention, Jon Stewart, The Daily Show


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