While Jon Stewart was a leading voice for the left during his run on Comedy Central's "Daily Show," this comeback has the once-beloved host trying to mimic the personalities that came about in the power vacuum of his past departure.
Season 1, Episode 8 of "The Problem with Jon Stewart" dealt with the topic of racism, and what everyone is discussing is how Stewart got into it with Andrew Sullivan over the topic of "white supremacy" and its purported existence.
Later on, Sullivan came out with a Substack blog post Friday responding to the incident, in which he states that it wasn't a fair debate being three-on-one, with the progressive group in studio, versus himself in a video call.
Sullivan published his perspective Friday of how things unfolded. It was a last-minute phone call where the show's bookers promised a one-on-one talk with Stewart. "Why would I go on a show just to be called a racist?" Andrew asked staffers. "Nothing like that would happen. This is not a debate. It's just you talking one-on-one with Jon, and he'd never do that," Sullivan claims a booker promised.
Stewart has disputed the claim on Twitter and said his "booker handled this last minute ask impeccably. Mr Sullivan was told, texted and emailed a detailed account of who was on the program, the content and intent of the discussion."
"And can we stop with the lazy "woke" shit anytime someone disagrees with a conservative. Fuck man," Stewart added in Friday's thread on Twitter. In Sullivan's Substack post he said he didn't have the time to read any emails beforehand.
What Sullivan found himself was a debate show where the episode's title was called "The Problem With White People." Andrew said the producers gave him one last chance to leave, but ultimately he trusted Stewart's solid reputation.
He reassured himself "that Stewart was a pro, and said I'd go ahead. I just assumed he wouldn't demonize or curse at a guest; he would moderate; he would entertain counter-arguments; he would defend fair play. After all, this was the man who had lacerated Crossfire for bringing too much heat and not enough light. He believed in sane discourse. He was a liberal, right?" Regardless, Sullivan didn't believe Stewart would call him a "motherf*cker" on the show. But Stewart did.
In the comfort of retrospective thought, Sullivan's response on Substack breaks down the flaws of Stewart's presentation. He points out issues like how Stewart uncritically advertised people like political activist Sister Souljah who remarked in a Washington Post interview: "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"
These historical background checks happen to matter to Stewart's overall belief, historically, as past moments like the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement help define what today's discussion about racism is about, given the collective societal leaps forward that were taken.
Sullivan clarifies his problem wasn't some dismissal of racism altogether; he's only trying to say the format of Stewart's show erased the nuances therein.
"His final peroration ended thus: 'America has always prioritized white comfort over black survival.' Note: always. There has been no real progress; white people have never actually listened to a black person; America is irredeemably racist. Those fucking white men, Lincoln and LBJ, never gave a sh*t," he wrote.
Sullivan goes as far as saying that Stewart emulated the assertions about white supremacy in culture that anti-racist activist Ibram X. Kendi has previously espoused. The host's strawman being all of white America believes African-Americans were "solely responsible for their community's struggles."
Sullivan tried bringing up his perspective of why America is great as an immigrant. But the evisceration by the rest of the panel squashed that train of thought quickly. In fact, Stewart tried arguing that slavery was like immigration by force.
Sullivan says Stewart's show was like a mirror of how the critical race theory debate has played out in America. He says the point of their agenda is "to insist that this history is still the reality, that the structure of American society is no different in kind than in 1619, and that its democracy was designed from the beginning to brutalize non-whites forever. This is what we're debating. No one is trying to minimize the pain of black suffering over the centuries, or debate whether systemic racism existed in America. Of course it did. And it lasted a hell of a long time. What we’re debating is how much those previous systems — repealed in their entirety nearly 60 years ago — explains resilient inequality today."
He urges readers to realize it's 2022, where the Biden administration practices diversity throughout federal departments. Sullivan says it was "compelling" when Stewart asked the other guests on the show for solutions yet came up empty. Meanwhile, Sullivan had direct questions to push that conversation forward.
"How do we reduce crime in poor black neighborhoods? How do we help foster black fatherhood? How do we better support black single moms financially? How important is childcare? How much more should we invest in schooling, and what new creative solutions should we try?" Sullivan continues.
The clip that went viral in the days following the episode's release was left-wing activist Lisa Bond using Sullivan as an avatar to paint all white people with a negative brush, and Stewart passively agreeing. Sullivan said he admitted that he messed up his responses in the heat of the moment of the show's taping.
The discussion had Stewart lamenting American history as racist and bad, with Sullivan arguing in favor of progress made since then.
"I disagree that we're generalizing all white people," Stewart says. Yet his activist guest Bond would go on to do just that.
"I did not come on this show to sit here and argue with another white man. That's one of the reasons we don’t even engage with white men at Race2Dinner. You know, because, quite honestly if white men were going to do something about racism, you had 400 years. You coulda done it," Bond said.
(For context, Race2Dinner is a $2,500 anti-racism dinner where liberal women gather in a display of overpriced reinforcement for their political activism.)
Stewart laughs at this. He sits there in silence as the activist accuses every white person of white supremacy. Then he finally says something: "If I could finger snap, I would finger snap right now." Sullivan brings up how Bond called him a racist, and Stewart quips, "You've been doing a pretty good job with it yourself there."
What the main Apple TV episode didn't show is that Stewart had an 80-minute conversation with Democrat Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. But it's during this talk that Stewart reacts to the debate he had earlier in the show with Sullivan.
Stewart opines: "So in the conversation we were having the pushback was that: A.) one of our guests used the phrase, 'white supremacy,' that the country was designed in white supremacy. And that language was a bur in the saddle of this one individual who said, 'How dare you say white supremacy,' even though to my mind, I don't know how you would describe it any other way."
"In terms of the design of it, it was designed with this idea that it was a hierarchy, that white Anglo-Saxon men were the top of it, Jews, Italians, Irish, were kind of in that middle zone that could be promoted depending on the need, and Brown and Black people, it was purposefully designed to keep them within that status, right?"
"So to me, that's, I don't know how else you'd describe it, but that word, we couldn’t get past it," says Stewart, who earlier in the show laughed as Bond asserted Sullivan embodied white men from 400 years ago.
The past year of stories involving Stewart are an indication of how the former Comedy Central star is navigating the current social climate. He publicly defended Joe Rogan in the Spotify dispute from earlier this year, and last year drew backlash for openly asking about the Wuhan lab leak theory on the Stephen Colbert show.
The reaction afterwards was something Stewart himself noticed. It's unclear if Stewart trying to revive his glory days with this Apple TV series is enough of a cope for him, seeing as how he openly floated running for Congress as a solution for his woes.