Yesterday, Bernie Goldberg—for whom I have much respect—wrote a FoxNews.com blog post titled, “Is Jon Stewart Racist?” The piece discussed Jon’s impression of Herman Cain, an African-American seeking the Republican nomination for president. Bernie wrote that Jon, “…put on a ‘black voice’ and proceeded to mock Mr. Cain in a way that would never be tolerated if a conservative had done it.”
FOX News drove the point home on their airwaves, referring to Jon’s bit as an “Amos n’ Andy routine” and segments about Jon were entitled, “Comic Excuse,” “Racial Comedy?” and “Racial Jokes?”
Putting Jon aside for just a moment, Bernie’s point is that there’s a double-standard and that liberals are less likely to get pegged as racists or bigots than are conservatives. “…[W]hy isn’t Jon Stewart a bigot,” Bernie writes, “when Limbaugh and Hannity and O’Reilly would be tagged as racists if they had done the same thing?” When it comes to talking about bias, bigotry and political ideology, I agree with Bernie. People on the left are no less likely to be prejudiced than people on the right. I’ve experienced that first-hand. Racism knows no politics. Racism doesn’t exist only on one end of the political spectrum. And I also agree with Bernie that the right gets called out more than people on the left.
But none of that has anything to do with Jon. So let’s talk about Jon.
I was on the receiving end of Jon’s jokes for a long, long time. I was thin-skinned enough to think that I was a target due to my ethnicity. And I was wrong.
Jon’s not a racist or a bigot—not even close. The insinuation that he is any of those things, hiding under the cover of comedy, is just plain wrong. The assertion that Jon “gets away” with jokes because FOX classifies him as a liberal, and that a conservative would get eviscerated for saying the same things, doesn’t hold water. Unless we’re ready to classify Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh as comedians rather than pundits, anchors or hosts on a news network, then any comparison to Jon is a false one.
Jon’s goal every night is to inform and illuminate, and to be funny while doing so. Whatever Jon’s political leanings, he is an equal-opportunity comedian and satirist. Whether you’re black, brown, green or purple, whether you’re Hispanic, White, African-American, Arab or Chinese, whether you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian or just plain apolitical, Jon just goes where the funny is (and sometimes it’s the jugular). Nobody gets a pass. And that’s exactly the way it should be.
As for the Herman Cain impression, well, I’d invite you to check out Jon’s other impressions—Italian, German, Arab, French, Scottish, British and Russian voices as well as famous people and politicians from Bill Clinton and Al Gore to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
I won’t pretend to speak for Jon—he does that quite well on his own—but I would venture to say that Jon sees his role as holding up a mirror to our society, showing us the absurdity of our politics and discourse and that the emperor has no clothes. That’s what the Rally to Restore Sanity was about. That’s what The Daily Show is about. And it’s what I believe Jon is about.
So if you’re a politician advocating a ridiculous position, a pundit pontificating from on high or an anchor who has the inevitable flubs that come from doing a live daily show while refusing to use a teleprompter like a robotic newsreader (ahem), brace yourself because Jon will get you the next day. And you probably have it coming.