Monday, December 27, 2010

Jon Stewart: Prime Mover in Passage of 9/11 First Responder Health Care Bill?

Snowed in in alien territory. Bereft of print edition.

According to Bill Carter and Brian Stelter's article on the New York Times website today, a major force behind the passage of the health care costs of the 9/11 first responders was Jon Stewart, the host of the Peabody-winning "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

"I don't even know if there was a deal, to be honest with you, before his show," said Kenny Specht, the founder of the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation, who was interviewed on Stewart's show on 12/16, which was solely devoted to that cause.

Even New York City Mayor Bloomberg, a frequent guest on the show, recognized Stewart's achievement. This is not to diminish the good Senators from New York, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The idea is that the focus of that show may have had an impact on the Republicans' only blunt tactic, the filibuster. They stopped the bill from passing on 12/10.

The article goes on to contrast Stewart's role with that of Edward R. Murrow, who was one of the very few (maybe the only) on-air personalities to speak out against the corrosive depradations of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s, when his tactic was fear of Communism. McCarthy was very effective and powerful. Even President Eisenhower tip toed lightly around him. It was only when McCarthy began investigating and accusing the American military and the state department of Communistic leanings that he was called out and his power waned.

The irony is that the McCarthy hearings where he attacked his enemies were also televised to a much wider, less fragmented audience than would be possible today. This makes Stewart's acknowledged achievement all the more impressive.

The 12/16 show was divided into two parts: the first was on the Republicans and their automatic use of the filibuster to block every initiative in Congress; the second took the broadcast networks to task for barely covering the vote in the months preceding it.

I remember very well the Republicans' use of 9/11 (especially former Mayor Rudolph Giuiliani) as a stepping stone for their political careers.

Maybe Stewart is the figure shaking things up in Washington because he offers an alternative to the blandishments and inside-the-beltway coziness of the Washington media.

As Robert J. Thompson, Professor of Television at Syracuse University, said:

“I have to think about how many kids are watching Jon Stewart right now and dreaming of growing up and doing what Jon Stewart does,” Mr. Thompson said. “Just like kids two generations ago watched Murrow or Cronkite and dreamed of doing that. Some of these ambitious appetites and callings that have brought people into journalism in the past may now manifest themselves in these other arenas, like comedy.”

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