Video: Jon Stewart: "The embarrassment is that I'm given credibility"

Deep down, Jon Stewart knows it. In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace Sunday, thanks to Wallace’s skillful grilling, the comedian made no claim of moderation, non-partisanship or independence. Instead, he tried to take for himself only the title of “comedian” and admitted he’s a bit embarrassed he’s ever taken seriously as a news source.

“The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict and laziness,” Stewart said. “The embarrassment is that I’m given credibility in this world because of the disappointment that the public has in what the news media does.”

Stewart makes it sound as though he wants to be taken seriously in one way only — as a funny man:

“Here is the difference between you and I,” he said, “I’m a comedian first. My comedy is informed by an ideological background, there’s no question about that.

“The thing that – in some respect – conservative activists will never understand is … I’m not an activist. I’m a comedian,” Stewart said. …

And he denied his own ambition to be a “political player,” saying instead, “Do I want my voice heard? Absolutely. That’s why I got into comedy.”

His comments hit on a question I’ve had for quite some time. What is it that enables liberal journalists and artists — actors, authors, filmmakers, comedians, etc. — to escape the “liberal” adjective before their artistic title, whereas conservative journalists and artists are almost always labeled as such? “Oh, he’s a conservative comedian.” “Yeah, she’s a conservative blogger.”

Can that be chalked up exclusively to the entrenched bias of all of Andrew Breitbart’s bigs — Hollywood, journalism, government, etc.? Certainly, that’s a part of it — liberals likely escape the “liberal” moniker in part because they’re shielded by the longstanding assumptions that Hollywood is about “entertainment,” that the MSM is “objective,” etc. (assumptions that have at last been aggressively questioned and at least partially revised with the rise of the blogosphere).

But could it also be that Stewart is speaking sincerely? Granted, he seems inordinately defensive and disgustingly smug –Wallace comes across as far more light-hearted, even though firm (it’s hard not to love Chris Wallace in this interview!) — but, somehow, Stewart still convinces me when he dodges criticism, as he always does, by saying he’s “a comedian first.” I honestly believe he wakes up thinking, “How can I be humorous today?” first and then, perhaps, “How can I advance the liberal agenda today?” At the very least, I believe he really believes that’s what he does. Perhaps that’s horribly naive of me. But the point is, if he does seek to be funny first, it works: He not only makes his audience laugh, but, because he does, he also advances the liberal agenda. Nobody wants to be spoonfed propaganda, but everybody loves to laugh.

All too often, conservative artists seem to ask the agenda question first. “How can I advance the conservative agenda?” not “How can I create great prose or a fine movie or a funny show?” For the most part, I find that a positive sign, a reflection that it’s difficult to be anything but a committed conservative. But conservatives could still take a page out of Jon Stewart’s (possibly pretend) playbook — make jokes for the sake of making jokes, write books for the sake of writing books, make movies for the sake of making movies — not to prove a broader point. In the process, the point-making might just prove even more effective.