Jon Stewart is preparing to leave his perch at “The Daily Show” and many would think this is a good thing. The Federalist recently noted that pernicious influence that the left leaning funny man has had on public discourse, with his mix of humor and liberal commentary. His audience tends to be made up of low information voters who do not get their news from any conventional source, thus representing a bloc ill-equipped to understand and react to political issues. Recently, a former African American writer for “The Daily Show” revealed that Stewart has an angry dark side. However, as Politico reported on Tuesday, Stewart served as an unofficial media adviser to President Barack Obama, making two secret visits to the White House that is known of.
Obama, whom Stewart admires and rarely criticized on his show, was quite right to cultivate the Comedy Central host. Stewart has a proven capability of not only shaping public opinion among his audience, especially the low information 18 to 30-year-old Millennial generation, but of changing policy. Stewart seems to have been only too happy to allow the president of the United States to suck up to him. It is not as if he pretended to be fair and balanced about who he mocked on his show, reserving his ire primarily for conservatives.
However, like a lot of other liberals, Stewart was not above hypocrisy. In his later career he had begun to lecture his audience about “white privilege,” the theory that white Americans still have an advantage over minorities, despite the fact that Jim Crow has been history for half a century and slavery for 150 years. However, he was not above invoking his own white privilege, or perhaps a better term might be “liberal white privilege,” when the necessity arose.
Wyatt Cenac, at one time the only African American writer on “The Daily Show” relates the story of an angry confrontation with Stewart the reveals an unattractive side of the comedian/political commentator.
“Cenac told Maron on “WTF” about an episode in 2011 in which Stewart went ballistic when Cenac voiced concern during a writers’ meeting about a segment Stewart was working on that involved a mocking impression of the black Republican U.S. presidential candidate Herman Cain. He told Stewart his impression reminded him of Kingfish, a minstrelsy character on “The Amos ’n’ Andy Show” played by actor Tim Moore in the early 1950s.
“Stewart later addressed the same criticism when Fox News charged he was racially mocking Cain in a segment that attempted to show his impression of Cain’s voice fell in line with his other impressions of French, Italian and Russian people. He also argued his joke focused on Cain’s position on an issue, not on his race.
“’He got incredibly defensive,’ Cenac told Maron. ‘I remember he was like, ‘What are you trying to say? There’s a tone in your voice.’ I was like, ‘There’s no tone. It bothered me. It sounded like Kingfish.’ And then he got upset. And he stood up and he was just like, ‘F— off. I’m done with you.’ And he just started screaming that to me. And he screamed it a few times. … And he stormed out. And I didn’t know if I had been fired.’ Cenac was so upset by the exchange, he even went outside and cried, he told Maron.
“’I represent my community, I represent my people, and I try to represent them the best that I can,’ Cenac told Maron. ‘I gotta be honest if something seems questionable, because if not, then I don’t want to be in a position where I am being untrue not just to myself but to my culture, because that’s exploitative.’
“Although the argument continued in Stewart’s office, it died away, ending with Stewart apologizing to all the writers in earshot, and later giving Cenac an indirect apology, he told Maron. ‘He did the bit [the Cain segment], and I said, ‘I want to make sure we’re cool.’ He said, ‘I don’t see your side, but I shouldn’t have yelled.’ That was the apology.’’ Cenac’s next year — as a correspondent, but no longer in the writers’ room, by choice — was “miserable,” and he left “The Daily Show” in 2012.”
It goes almost without saying that one can just imagine how Stewart would have reacted if someone on the right – say Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity – had cursed out a black employee after making a racially dubious on air performance and then created a hostile work environment for the man. It is clear, in any case, that the criticism raised by Cenac hit a little too close to home. Stewart was able to dish it out in abundance, but he seemed unable to take it. He would also never think to racially mock President Obama, but felt free to do that to Herman Cain. Racially charged humor is acceptable if the target is a black conservative. This kind of double standard will be Stewart’s legacy as he departs from the airwaves.