Here is a selection of recent headlines: “Jon Stewart Destroys Megyn Kelly,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Fox News’ ‘Spite-Driven Anger Machine,’” “Jon Stewart Destroys What’s Left of Peggy Noonan’s Credibility,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Fox News Over Syria Coverage,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Glenn Beck’s Utopia,” “Jon Stewart Destroys Bill O’Reilly” — there are about 520,000 more — and, not to be missed, “Jon Stewart Destroys Chicago-Style Pizza.”
The sound of terrors is in his ears at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central, and in prosperity the destroyer cometh upon him.
Mr. Stewart is the host of a fake news show, the genesis of which probably was a conversation that went approximately like this: Brother-in-Law: “There’s nothing funny on Saturday Night Live except the ‘Weekend Update.’ They should really just do that for the whole show.” Jon Stewart: “Hey . . . !” Mr. Stewart is among the lowest forms of intellectual parasite in the political universe, with no particular insights or interesting ideas of his own, reliant upon the very broadest and least clever sort of humor, using ancient editing techniques to make clumsy or silly political statements sound worse than they are and then pantomiming outrage at the results, the lowbrow version of James Joyce giving the hero of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the unlikely name of Stephen Dedalus and then having other characters in the novel muse upon the unlikelihood of that name. His shtick is a fundamentally cowardly one, playing the sanctimonious vox populi when it suits him, and then beating retreat into “Hey, I’m just a comedian!” when he faces a serious challenge. It is the sort of thing that you can see appealing to bright, politically engaged 17-year-olds.
His audience is not made up of bright, politically engaged 17-year-olds. But Mr. Stewart has pulled off a pretty neat trick: He has, as the half-million or so headlines mentioned above indicate, made fake news into real news, and it is not an accident that the verb “destroys” so often follows his name. Mr. Stewart is the leading voice of the half-bright Left because he is a master practitioner of the art of half-bright vitriolic denunciation. His intellectual biography is that of a consummate lightweight — a William and Mary frat boy who majored in psychology, which must have been a disappointment to his father, a professor of physics — and his comedy career has been strictly by-the-numbers, from the early days on the New York City comedy-club scene to changing his name (Mr. Stewart began life as Mr. Leibowitz) and a career-boosting stint on MTV, where he was second only to Beavis and Butt-Head
in the ratings. He subsequently may have matched Beavis and Butt-Head
’s popularity, but he has never risen to comparable heights of social insight.
The thing is, people actually get their news from his show. Fans, many of whom cannot quite spell his name, swear that the program is “more accurate than any other news show.” Ignore, for the moment, the judgment exhibited in that quotation and focus on the word “other.” In the minds of many of his admirers — and in the minds of those news-site editors who report on Mr. Stewart’s fake news as part of the real news — there is no substantive difference between what Mr. Stewart does and what, e.g., Ezra Klein does (“Ezra Klein Destroys Romney,” “Ezra Klein Destroys David Brooks,” “Ezra Klein Destroys Republican Opposition to Temporary Payroll Tax Cut,” etc.) because for the Left the point of journalism is not to criticize politics or to analyze politics but to be a servant of politics, to “destroy” such political targets as may be found in one’s crosshairs. For the Left, the maker of comedy and the maker of graphs perform the same function. It does not matter who does the “destroying,” so long as it gets done.
“Destroying” is more of an aspiration than a reality, of course. If Megyn Kelly has been destroyed by anybody, she is not showing any sign of it. 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. Mr. Klein, for all his empiricist posturing, is very much a practitioner of that shallow art — writing, among other things, that a Democratic opponent of the Affordable Care Act was “willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score.” (Shockingly, I was unable to locate a headline reading: “Ezra Klein Destroys Joe Lieberman.”)
Senator Reid’s recent obsession with denouncing Charles and David Koch from his congressional perch is of a piece with that: Never mind the merits of the things the Kochs endorse politically — from liberalizing energy markets to gay marriage — they are a handy bogeyman. And, given the politics of the situation, Senator Reid surely would prefer to talk about the Koch brothers’ allegedly nefarious plans for world domination (the great “libertarian conspiracy to take over the world and leave you the hell alone”) than about Democrats’ recent meandering energy policies, which would hold hostage U.S. producers in order to appease the Birkenstocks-and-white-boy-dreadlocks set.