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James Love Headshot

Jon Stewart Spikes the Ball, But Misses the Moment

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In his Monday segment on Rick Sanchez, Jon Stewart makes fun of the guy who just lost his job, because of Jon Stewart. The segment was, I thought, mean spirited, and relied upon selective use of clips and points to avoid dealing with Sanchez's original comments.

To me, when he appeared on his CNN show, Sanchez comes across as a shallow, not particularly insightful anchor, who was there because of his good looks -- more or less the opposite of the type of anchor that originally made CNN such a gold standard for reporting breaking news. But whatever his flaws, Sanchez was just one of many such types on television news shows these days, and he was clearly stung and hurt by the frequent references to his work on the Daily Show.

Sanchez saw Stewart as some type of well connected non-working class guy who did not appreciate how difficult it was for Sanchez to succeed, in a world where the number of nationally seen Latino news anchors is now zero, in a world where Latin American immigrants are just a step below Muslims in being political punching bags from the right. I took the Sanchez radio interview as a complaint against Stewart for dismissing Latinos as stupid -- something that Sanchez, an ex jock and a Latino, was emotional about. The comments about Jews were in the context of Sanchez not thinking the comparison between working class Latinos and Jews was reasonable.

Did Sanchez screw up? Yes he did. And what he said about the Jewish influence of the news and entertainment industry was itself something that Jews have been hearing for years, from people who hate (and fear) Jews. Expressed how it was, it blew up, leaving Sanchez out of a job -- not for his shortcomings as a journalist, but for his lack of judgment and recklessness, and for alienating some listeners and advertisers (including non-Jews who found the comments offensive).

How did Jon Stewart respond? By showing clips comparing Rick Sanchez to Steve Carell on the Office, and showing some random interview between Sanchez and a Nazi, none of which did anything to help Sanchez or to reach out to anyone who shared Sanchez's feeling regarding Stewart's insensitivity to Latinos or working class Americans.

Stewart himself was the one called a bigot, and it is always a difficult to defend yourself from such an allegation -- in part because no one can really "prove" they are without prejudice. Stewart has been criticized for being insensitive to women, blacks and others in the past, and maybe he was not up to dealing with Sanchez's playing the bigot card to deal with something that Stewart saw as having zero to do with ethnicity.

An underlying difference between the two, not mentioned much but probably important, was Sanchez's background as a popular, very good looking athlete, and Stewart's experiences growing up being bullied, in part because he was Jewish, and not very big.

In my mind, Jon Stewart is an amazing talent, and a leader. Stewart has helped give a broad community of people a voice and a sense of humor about seeing the absurdity of the failures of the current political situations. Stewart has now become much more than a comedian. I think the Sanchez segment on Monday also shows that Stewart does not yet appreciate how influential and powerful he has become. The skewering of Rick Sanchez pretty much avoided Sanchez's complaints, and was unnecessarily insensitive to those who wanted reassurance that Stewart does not look down on Latinos.

More satisfying will be the segment where Stewart and Sanchez sit down for a chat, on the Daily Show, to talk this over.

Updates
The comments to this blog are running about 90 percent against the notion that Jon Stewart should have taken a different tact. Rick Sanchez is offering several apologies, this one on ABC news.