Stewart, Santelli And Sarcasm

Jon Stewart invokes hypocritical sophistry for a laugh

Something didn’t sound quite right when I listened to Jon Stewart’s 
set-up for his sarcastic blast of CNBC’s Rick Santelli as a hypocrite 
who thinks federal bailout money for corporate America is just fine 
while a helping hand from Uncle Sam (a bailout by another name) for 
strapped mortgage holders isn’t. So I reverted to the method I’d come to 
rely on while an investigative reporter when I could not follow what a 
fast talking con artist was actually saying: I transcribed what he said. 
And sure enough, the words on paper revealed Stewart’s sophistry that my 
ears could not pinpoint:

     Actually, our guest tonight was supposed to be this guy. His name 
is Rick Santelli. He’s an analyst for CNBC and he’s a former derivatives 
trader. The reason he became famous was because of a sort of Howard 
Beale moment on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He had 
done some critical reporting on the hundreds of billions of dollars of 
bailout money going to failed banks, failed auto makers and insurers of 
failed banks and auto makers (laughter). But when it looked like the 
president wanted a small percentage of that money to go to actual 
homeowners, whu ho!!!!! (laughter). David Banner became The Incredible 

As you can plainly see, Stewart admits Santelli was critical of the 
federal bailout money that went to fat cats. Why that got a laugh makes 
me wonder whether Stewart’s audience warm-up includes nitrous oxide. But 
Stewart could not continue with that acknowledgment and still expect to 
rip Santelli for being a hypocrite, the most dastardly of demons in the 
pop pantheon of evil (except for those hypocrites on the political left, 
of course), because he would then be left without the necessary 
hypocrisy peg on which to hang Santelli for derision. So Stewart did the 
only thing he could do, he did a quick trick of the tongue to make the 
listener forget what he just said.

Stewart did that by quickly implying through his energy and tone of 
voice that Santelli was for big corporate bailouts but against little 
homeowners in dire straits being given some tax dollar help. The actual 
switch is obfuscated within the emotional context of Stewart’s 
transition. It’s a verbal illusion common to con men, comedians, 
politicians (which covers both) and some others who make their living 
manipulating people with spoken words. Some have to learn it, others do 
it naturally. I’ve no idea which category Stewart falls in, but I first 
had the technique defined to me and demonstrated while working at a 
carny side show in Ocean City, Maryland one summer. In it, a pitchman 
would regularly shame hundreds of people at a time for being greedy, 
dishonest victimizers of his good nature when they would expect to be 
given a prize he had offered them earlier for free. Call it an oral bait 
and switch. Some caught on and walked, but enough actually paid for the 
item to assuage the guilt the pitchman had tricked them into feeling for 
him and the show to keep a nice cash flow going.

Whether Stewart is good enough to pull off that pitchman’s trick in 
front of a cold audience I can’t say, but he was certainly good enough 
to manipulate his warmed studio audience, his predisposed home audience 
and the national media’s perception (ok, it’s generally predisposed to 
Stewart’s side too) of what Santelli actually said to what he wanted 
them to believe he said. He had to in this case because without creating 
the impression that Santelli was talking out of both sides of his mouth, 
Stewart’s whole rip would have made no more sense than his mixed Beale 
and Banner metaphors except in that alternate sophomoric universe where 
facts and form don’t matter. But isn’t that where we have been 
culturally stalled for some time? You know (residuals to Caroline 
Kennedy), the cosmos where even if something isn’t true, it’s still the 
truth (more on that line later) because the lie validates the biases 
generally held by most, in this case, who watch Stewart’s show?

But that’s OK — to a point.

Stewart isn’t doing real news and both he and those behind the scenes 
are candid about that. Comedy Central Network describes “The Daily Show” 
as the top name in fake news while its writers say “they do not have any 
journalistic responsibility and that as comedians their only duty is to 
provide entertainment.” All literally true. So is one wag’s alternate 
title for Stewart’s show: “We Pander to Liberals & Attack Conservatives 
without Scruple,” a rather self evident fact. Even so, Stewart is doing 
satires on the news which means that, like Michael Moore’s 
“documentaries,” he cannot be hamstrung by fact, because satire is 
comedy and, as Moore says, “how can comedy be factual?” even if it’s 
packaged within a form that is by definition supposed to be a 
documentation of fact?

What is bothersome about Stewart’s “Daily Show” in that respect is that 
those who watch it, by my observation at least, tend to be some of 
America’s brightest in terms of an SAT score. My anecdotal conclusion is 
buttressed somewhat in a 2004 presidential election study by the 
Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. 
According to Annenberg researchers, “Daily Show” viewers “know more 
about election issues than people who regularly read newspapers or watch 
television news.” Those sampled were asked things like “Who favors 
allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security contributions 
in the stock market?” Answer: Bush. And “Who urges Congress to extend 
the federal law banning assault weapons?” Answer: Kerry. If those two 
questions are indicative of the rest and set the current bar for being 
well informed, we have dumbed down as a people much farther than I ever 

But if Stewart’s viewers are the best informed, I must also note that 
most of those viewers I have contact with also qualify as some of this 
country’s most arrogant, angry and intellectually dishonest. All are 
traits of successful sarcasm just as they tend to be endemic to those 
who are the most sarcastic. I await correction if wrong, but my 
recollection of Stewart’s vicious, cheap shots (another element of 
sarcasm) at Tucker Carlson’s expense when he tried to do a friendly 
interview of Stewart causes me to believe I’m spot on. I’m not a fan of 
Carlson’s dancing or bow ties either, but he appears to be a genuinely 
nice man who did nothing to provoke the nastiness that Stewart hit him 
with. If that behavior was the real Stewart, it reveals a repugnant 
characteristic I have also found among Stewart’s biggest fans. In short, 
they are often the luminaries of a dark matter, Parkeresque universe in 
which an ideological whore can be led to knowledge, but not made to 
think, even within my own family.

A number of those members are past or present top academics at such 
schools as Johns Hopkins, Duke, UCLA, Stanford and Harvard. They are 
different people at different universities but they all have one thing 
in common: their main TV “news” source is Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show.” 
Same for most of their faculty friends and students from what I have 
seen. The reason seems to be that they tend to be angry souls who find 
vicarious release in Stewart’s attacks on people and ideas they consider 
“bad” (aka conservative) without having to worry that he will gore their 
own liberal oxen except as an exercise in tokenism. That is especially 
disturbing because these are the very people that claim to be learned 
and open minded, but in fact, often do nothing more than perpetuate long 
disproved beliefs and even outright academic frauds. There are many 
examples, but two among the college smorgasbord of deceit will do.


When “I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala” won the 1992 
Nobel Peace Prize for her book, Menchu’s first person, personally 
written account of the evils of capitalism and the brutality of the US 
financed Guatemalan military against her and other Guatemalan indigenous 
peoples became required reading in many college classrooms. Still is, 
even after the book was exposed as a fraud. According to those who 
checked out her story, Menchu did not write the book, a French Marxist 
did. Neither did the events in the book happen to her as claimed. They 
were fabricated along Marxist narrative lines to sell that ideology. So 
why is an academic fraud still being taught as fact? When I asked 
Marjorie Agosin, head of the Spanish department at Wellesley College 
that question many years ago, she said, “Even if it isn’t true, it is 
still the truth.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Many professors 
say they will stand by Rigoberta Menchu’s memoir”) quotes Agosin as 
saying, “Whether her book is true or not, I don’t care.” Other 
professors told me the same thing in different words.


When Emory University professor Michael A. Bellesiles published “Arming 
America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture,” he was roundly hailed 
for having proven the National Rifle Association and its affiliated “gun 
nuts” had been lying about historical evidence that the Second Amendment 
was a guarantee of an individual’s right to own a gun. Bellesiles was

awarded Columbia University’s prestigious Bancroft Prize, among others. 
That was until a researcher named Clayton Cramer discovered that 
Bellesiles made it all up. Bellesilles was forced to resign from Emory, 
his publisher pulled the book and Columbia took back its prize. No 
matter, Oxford University hired Bellesiles as a distinguished professor 
and put his book back on the market where it continues to spread an 
academic fraud.

True to the origin of the term, sarcasm is an especially appropriate 
form of humor to attack those one hates because of the way it shreds its 
targets when done well. Stewart certainly does that. But if all humor is 
redirected hostility and those who tell jokes for a living are 
inflicting their own inner pain via words that they would like to 
inflict by physical force if they had the nerve to do it, as I am told, 
how many comedians besides Ray Romano would dare admit that they would 
be accountants if their fathers had told them they loved them? More to 
the point, do we really want to have a comedian’s personal demons 
setting the standard for national discourse?

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