Last night, Jon Stewart welcomed NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams to The Daily Show in a witty rapid-fire exchange. Williams, who is obviously very serious on the NBC Nightly news, has a reputation for being a pretty funny guy, and more than held his own in bringing the funny, joking about, among other things, being old enough to wear trifocals ("I interviewed Lincoln") and even donning the specs on air (which he doesn't do on NBC), to which Stewart's reaction was: "When you came out I saw a robust man who just came back from the Lebanon, if I may use the British pronunciation of it, and was feeling his oats as a newsman, as a gadabout...and then you put those on and I thought, I think I beat that guy's ass in Dungeons & Dragons. I think he's a wizard with very little power."The exchange did, however, have two notable moments, regarding soon-to-be nightly news challenger Katie Couric and Williams' recent reporting from Lebanon. Regarding Couric, Stewart cut right to the chase: "What are you and your colleagues gonna do to destroy her? What are you gonna do to break her spirit?" Williams responded innocently, "I'm not about tearing down" and then, with a joke he clearly relished, "It would be as if one of your acolytes in the fake news business branched out to start his own..." (Williams liked that joke enough to use it twice, after the first time getting cut off by the audience's "Oooooooooh" as if to say, "Oh no, you didn't!"; Stewart's reply: "You don't do the news with an audience do you?"). After getting to satisfactorily deliver his zinger the second time ("Ohhh, that French guy!"), Williams addressed the Couric challenge:
"You know what, we welcome the competition, Jon. We don't go out to destroy our competitors — we say things like JFK did when he said "a rising tide lifts all boats." Having Katie in our time slot and my friend Charlie Gibson for that matter — why are you drawing when I'm talking to you?— makes us better, it makes the competition sharper. My son has a longer attention span than you do.
But the segment truly heated up when Stewart tossed Williams this question: "In the Lebanon or in New Orleans, which had do you think, the stronger US government presence?" Williams deftly dodged the question a bit (which he did the last time he was on the show, following Katrina, when he said: "I don't do opinions, I'm going to leave it to others."). He did, however, describe exactly how secure he felt over there: "The bottle rockets you and I set off as kids have a better guidance system than these Katuyshas. They go all over the countryside. Half of northern Israel is a forest fire because they land and they explode and they're scary as all get out in that way." And when questioned on the veracity of news reports coming from the Middle East (especially on the heels of the doctored Reuters photos), Williams insisted that the situation is "too real," that "no one has time" to manufacture a story for the media's benefit. Williams recounted going up in an Israeli military blackhawk helicopter with rockets flying 1,500 feet beneath him before reminding Stewart, "they're firing real bullets over there. Anytime you wanna cross over to the other side, baby, travel with me." Stewart did not seem inclined to do so.
Update: Video of the segment available on YouTube here.