It was not so long ago that Jon Stewart was the undisputed voice of the progressive conscience. To single out any one conservative writer who has exposed the hollowness of the left’s infatuation with this liberal comedian is to unjustly rob others of credit for the same observation. With apologies to the rest of the conservative commentariat, permit me to quote National Review’s Kevin Williamson on the subject. In an enlightening post, Williamson observed how Stewart long ago settled into the comfortable habit of reinforcing liberal biases and, in recompense, is perfunctorily dubbed by his admirers to have “destroyed” the subject of his critique.
“‘Destroying’ is more of an aspiration than a reality, of course,” Williamson observed. “What it communicates is the Left’s politics of vilification, a longstanding preference that has recently become extremely pronounced, substituting a good-guys-and-bad-guys narrative for the discussion of complex ideas.”
Indeed. Stewart abandoned the trade in critical analysis long ago, preferring instead to peddle liberal conventional wisdom. He can, however, be reliably counted on to skewer those who the public generally feels deserve a good skewering. Rarely in the Obama era has Stewart bravely put his influence in jeopardy by cutting against the grain of public opinion.
The Comedy Central host seemed to depart from that predictable course on Monday when he engaged in a perilous defense of his friend and frequent companion, Brian Williams, from the hordes of fact checkers combing through every statement the NBC News anchor ever made and finding no shortage of dubious assertions to parse.
The most potent defense of Williams that Stewart and his team of comedy writers could come up with is to pivot gracelessly into an attack on the Iraq War (Via Erik Wemple at The Washington Post who has some cutting thoughts on this clip):
“The media is on it,” Stewart said after playing a series of clips of reporters daring to investigate a news story. “Now, this may seem like overkill but not for me. No, it’s not overkill because I am happy finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war.”
Insert predictable hoots of delight from the audience of Pavlovian replicants.
“It might not necessarily be the first person you’d want held accountable on that list but never again will Brian Williams mislead a nation about being shot at in a war we probably wouldn’t have ended up in if we had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual f***ing war,” Stewart insisted.
Stewart goes on to claim that the media was manipulated into reporting on the lie that Saddam Hussein’s regime harbored weapons of mass destruction in violation of a series of international treaties and United Nations resolutions. He does so with all the emphatic animation of someone making a dubious and thin case utterly unrelated to the subject upon which they are supposedly opining. It is misdirection at its most amateurish.
The notion that “Bush lied” is a tempting fiction, and one which U.S. Appeals Court Justice Laurence Silberman recently observed is even being adopted by mainstream political reporters as the gospel truth. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he also noted that this is pure revisionist history.
I took a leave of absence from the bench in 2004-05 to serve as co-chairman of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction—a bipartisan body, sometimes referred to as the Robb-Silberman Commission. It was directed in 2004 to evaluate the intelligence community’s determination that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD—I am, therefore, keenly aware of both the intelligence provided to President Bush and his reliance on that intelligence as his primary casus belli. It is astonishing to see the “Bush lied” allegation evolve from antiwar slogan to journalistic fact.
The intelligence community’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated, in a formal presentation to President Bush and to Congress, its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction—a belief in which the NIE said it held a 90% level of confidence. That is about as certain as the intelligence community gets on any subject.
Recall that the head of the intelligence community, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, famously told the president that the proposition that Iraq possessed WMD was “a slam dunk.” Our WMD commission carefully examined the interrelationships between the Bush administration and the intelligence community and found no indication that anyone in the administration sought to pressure the intelligence community into its findings. As our commission reported, presidential daily briefs from the CIA dating back to the Clinton administration were, if anything, more alarmist about Iraq’s WMD than the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.
Saddam had manifested sharp hostility toward America, including firing at U.S. planes patrolling the no-fly zone set up by the armistice agreement ending the first Iraq war. Saddam had also attempted to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush —a car-bombing plot was foiled—during Mr. Bush’s visit to Kuwait in 1993. But President George W. Bush based his decision to go to war on information about Saddam’s WMD. Accordingly, when Secretary of State Colin Powell formally presented the U.S. case to the United Nations, Mr. Powell relied entirely on that aspect of the threat from Iraq.
Silberman asserted that there is no evidence to suggest that the administration did anything other than present the intelligence available to them at the time to the American public and the people’s representatives in Congress. That this intelligence was later proven inaccurate does not support the notion that the Bush administration willfully lied in order to mislead the public into supporting a war of choice.
Contrast this with the Williams controversy. NBC News’s counselors apparently knew that William’s account of riding in a Chinook helicopter that had been struck by RPG fire was unsupported and advised him to stop recounting it. According to reports, the news division regularly joked about Williams’ penchant for embellishing his experiences. No one, including Williams, is quite sure how he confused the audio from one group of choppers in his “trail” with his own given that they were miles apart. Rather than address that confusion, Williams spent the next 12 years telling an increasingly harrowing anecdote involving combat over the deserts of Iraq. And Stewart’s only defense of Williams is to halfheartedly insist that he wouldn’t have been in a position to lie about his experiences in Iraq if a coalition of nations hadn’t deposed Hussein in the first place? That’s the very best The Daily Show could do?
The claim that Stewart enjoyed some credibility before this episode is disputable, but to debate whether it exists now is an academic exercise. Not even the left’s antipathy toward the Iraq War will convince them to forget that Stewart’s buddy stole the valor of the American soldiers serving in Iraq for his own.