In case you somehow missed it, Jon Stewart has announced that sometime in 2015, he will leave The Daily Show, the trademark faux-news comedy program he commandeered from Craig Kilborn and transformed into a cultural powerhouse whose format is often imitated but truly, never bettered. “Did I die?” Stewart asked on the 11 February broadcast the day after his announcement, stunned at the outpouring of sadness on social media regarding his decision. Indeed, reading tale after tale of writers and young Americans who became politically active or went out and pursued degrees because of what Stewart has done is nothing short of incredible.
As of this writing, there are numerous thinkpieces about Stewart’s legacy and countless slideshows of recommended replacements. (For our money, since Stewart boldly changed the face of the show after taking it over, we think it’s appropriate that they hand it over to a very strong voice who will similarly change it as well; no one is looking for Stewart Mark II as that’s a formula destined for failure.) Amidst the listicles of his “greatest takedowns” and “memorable” moments, we wanted to dig a bit further and instead focus on three of the boldest yet strangely underappreciated segments of recent memory. While there are incredible moments from the correspondents, the awkward comedy the cast tried to engage in post-9/11 that did everything except reference the tragedy, and Stewart’s justifiably-smug dismissal of CNN’s Crossfire upon hearing its demise, we dug up three Stewart-centric moments that highlighted his humanity, his intelligence, and, of course, his humor.
“A Single Factual Error” (8 December 2014)
Following a piece that ran at the top of December 2014 detailing the national outcry over the death of Eric Garner, Stewart appropriately took to task the media — and especially Fox News — for missing the point over what the outrage was about. In listing similar cases involving unarmed black men being killed at the hands of police officers, Stewart and his staffers misidentified one such case and were promptly corrected by the San Bernardino County District Attorney. In this masterful segment, Stewart doesn’t blame his staff for a second, instead accepting the entirety of the blame for himself, even as Fox News had a field day with it. “The Daily Show has to be right 100% of the time,” Stewart opines, “Fox has to be right once.” Watching Stewart deftly own up to his error before taking Fox & Friends anchor Brian Kilmeade to task for overstepping his bounds in his response only furthered the idea that even while running a “comedy show,” Stewart never once compromised his integrity, endearing himself to his fans all the more.
“9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster” (16 December 2010)
Longtime fans of the show know that one of Stewart’s most passionate causes was for supporting 9/11 first responders and veterans from all over. He made a huge deal out of the delays in Veteran’s Administration (VA) coverage long before the 2014 scandal in the institution changed everything, but he was rarely as livid as he was in late 2010 when the House passed a bill that would ensure medical coverage for 9/11 first responders by closing up a tax loophole, but not before the Republicans in the senate filibustered it. He started the episode by taking on the “big three” TV networks for covering the Beatles’ catalog being available on iTunes instead of the bill, then moving on to rail on Fox News for constantly standing up for the first responders but underreporting this story to an absurd degree, failing to identify who the party was that even initiated the filibuster. Stewart’s takedown alone would be an underappreciated moment, but what was even more powerful was how he brought four first responders right there on air with him to talk in great detail over the suffering they are currently going through, abated due their lack of access to proper health care even after going above and beyond in a time of crisis. Stewart used his platform to put a human face to the story, letting the men talk without much interruption. It made for one of the more solemn segments on Daily Show history, but it remains one of the most powerful they’ve ever run. Six days after the segment aired, the GOP backed down and passed the bill in the senate.
Betsy McCaughey Interview (20 August 2009)
Few people love an honest-to-goodness debate quite like Stewart. He loved it when ideologues from the other side of the party sat down and sparred with him in an interview, especially when he knocked them off their talking points with his rather resolute and pointed knowledge about the subject at hand. (For a good example of this, see his 2010 interview with Dick Armey; for a bad example, watch him get owned by Christian historian David Barton in 2011). Yet even moreso than his iconic ripping of Mad Money‘s Jim Cramer, his 2009 interview with Betsy McCaughey, the former Lt. Gov. of New York who made the term “death panel” a buzz-phrase during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, was a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Admittedly, McCaughey gave Stewart a lot of ammunition, ranging from her bringing the actual physical bill out for reference to constantly pandering to the audience — which, incidentally, made them turn on her instantaneously. Not only did he immediately refute McCaughey’s claims, but he also followed up some of her more outrageous points by simply asking her to show him where her facts came from. He waited and hummed the Jeopardy! theme as she thumbed through the massive tome, weakening her argument with each frantic page turn. She may have given Stewart everything he needed from the onset, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy the process any less.