The Weekend Jolt

Media

Why Jon Stewart’s Lab-Leak Moment Matters

Jon Stewart discusses COVID origins on Stephen Colbert’s show on June 14. (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/Screengrab via YouTube)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Perhaps this author is looking back fondly through hilarity-colored glasses, but there once was a time when comedians could ding the leading Democrats of the day — even the Big Dog himself — without fear of an audience or, worse, an online reprisal. Jon Stewart came along and brought comedy deeper into the political space, essentially merging the two, and did so from a liberal perspective during the height of the Bush-whacking years. Yet he was, and remains, a free thinker — an undeniably adroit one — who could agitate his own side, and both sides, when he deemed fit.

He was, in a sense, a transitional figure, bridging an era of political humor that used the former in service of the latter, and a modern era that flips the formula — so that the jokes, often stale and predictable, serve the cause.

So when mentor Jon Stewart joined protégé Stephen Colbert earlier this week and took it upon himself to savage the Chinese government and attempt to convert anyone still denying the plausibility of the COVID lab-leak theory, whether out of stubborn loyalty to one side’s narrative or for some other reason, it was a bellow from that era not quite bygone. It was an effective one. His Sauron’s eye for absurdity locked on its target and stated what is so painfully obvious to anyone willing to think outside partisan team-playing:

The disease is the same name as the lab. That’s just a little too weird, don’t you think? . . . What about this . . . there’s been an outbreak of chocolaty goodness near Hershey, Pennsylvania. What do you think happened? “Oh, I don’t know, maybe a steam shovel mated with a cocoa bean.” Or it’s the f***ing chocolate factory!

He’s since endured arrows, of course, from the press, which burst forth with copious advisories that comedians should not be treated as experts, mind you. But the message made it through to those Americans whose jobs don’t involve a content-management system (and to paraphrase Sideshow Bob, yes, this author recognizes the irony of using a CMS in order to decry it). The audience applauded, recall, when Jon Stewart pivoted to his lab-leak argument, and then continued to hoot and cheer as he steamrolled his sparring partner.

Kyle Smith lights a cigarette and savors the excellence of this moment, and the sweet, sweet knowledge that Stewart’s is a voice that can’t be ignored:

Huzzah, hallelujah, and hot damn, that was good television. For nearly a year and a half, we’ve been told that an extremely far-fetched theory about the origins of the coronavirus was the only acceptable story, and that an extremely plausible explanation about the origins of the coronavirus was “debunked,” “disproven,” “nutty,” a “conspiracy theory,” and just plain unsayable.

Conservatives can deal out unpleasant truths all we want, but the culture at large has so marginalized us that nothing we say really breaks through, and both the legacy media and Silicon Valley tech firms are increasingly brazen about simply denying conservatives access to the microphone. Stewart is different. He is worshipped by the left-of-center media. At his peak, he seemed to enjoy as many adoring profiles as he had actual viewers. When he speaks, lefties listen.

As for Colbert, the study in contrasts didn’t go so well. Peter Spiliakos puts it succinctly here: “Colbert is terrified of his Very Online fanbase. . . . It is ironic because, 15 years ago, Colbert was a more original comic than Stewart, but the demands of nightly doses of craven partisanship for year upon year have ruined him.”

For the Very Online, don’t expect Jon Stewart’s time back in the late-night spotlight to sway minds. But for everyone else, his stating-the-obvious routine resonates. Public pressure will keep growing on the Biden administration, the WHO, and the scientific community as a whole to renew the COVID-origins investigation with vigor.

The message: Ya’ know, that Jon Stewart’s got a point.

More broadly, the Daily Show ex-host’s bit — flecked with his trademark flourishes of darting around the set, speaking directly to the camera, grimacing, going nasally, cracking up at his counterpart’s occasional riposte to restore levity — is a reminder that it’s okay, once in a while, to perceive that one’s political others are not all cretinous mouth-breathers; to weigh competing ideas before assuming the right one; and to say, “Wait a minute, the other side’s got a point.”

Enough with the yappin’. Let’s get with the linkin’.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Biden’s summit with Putin had a few bright spots, but also gave Vlad the prestige he craves: Biden’s Unnecessary Putin Summit

Tough words on China out of this week’s summits — but take a closer look, to see the imprint of wobbly European governments: A Hesitant, Half-Hearted Stand against China

The Biden Ed Department’s faulty Title IX guidance has troubling implications: Young Women Lose under Biden’s Title IX Edict

It’s time for a bad Trump policy that became a bad Biden policy to go: Repeal This Tax on Factory Jobs

ARTICLES

Dan McLaughlin: Justice Amy Coney Barrett Proves Democrats’ Obamacare Doomsaying Wrong

Kathryn Jean Lopez: The Supreme Court’s Unanimous Fulton Ruling Is a Victory for Children

Charles C. W. Cooke: Have Journalists Ever Met the People They Write About?

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The Revolt against Left-Wing Schooling

Kevin Williamson: A Crime Scene in Hong Kong

Naomi Schaefer Riley and James Piereson: Wokeness Comes to Philanthropy

Dan McLaughlin: Revisiting Uncle Tom’s Cabin

David Harsanyi: Benjamin Netanyahu Was No Autocrat

Charles C. W. Cooke: This Is Your Brain on Critical Race Theory

Jack Crowe: A Grad Student Tried to Correct a Misleading COVID Narrative. Rebekah Jones Tried to Ruin His Career for It

Caroline Downey: Biden COVID Adviser: Americans Should Have ‘Sacrificed a Little Bit’ More during Pandemic

Rich Lowry: Biden’s Priorities: Trillions for Domestic Spending, Not a Cent More for Defense

Ryan Mills: Teachers See Progress, Conservative Parents See Racism. The Battle for Public Education Arrives in Red America

Victoria Coates: Netanyahu Is Down, but Is He Out for Good?

Sean-Michael Pigeon: San Francisco Chaos Proves Law and Order Is a Public Good

Cameron Hilditch: A Critical Race Theory Reader

John McCormack: Chip Roy Charts His Own Course in the House

CAPITAL MATTERS

Steve Hanke is here for some rial talk on Iran’s currency and economy: Iran’s Misery and the Miserable State of the Iranian Rial

Jordan McGillis argues the U.S. should boost LNG exports to Taiwan, for a win on two fronts: How the U.S. and Taiwan Can Unite on Energy and Foreign Policy

Jessica Melugin has qualms about one state’s crackdown on Google: Why Ohio’s Attempt to Regulate Google as a ‘Common Carrier’ Is a Terrible Idea

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White wonders whether a new documentary about life and survival in China is information or indoctrination: China’s Art-Film Army of the Brainwashed

Brian Allen writes here about an emerging trend among frustrated museum staffers (and be sure to find his follow-up piece this weekend): The Union Movement Hits Museums Nationwide

Kyle Smith pounds out a three-part series on Hunter Biden’s memoir, a story of Wolf-of-Wall-Street-level intensity (or more fittingly, the Black Sheep of Logan Circle): Hunter Biden’s Crack-Fueled Misadventures, Crack and Corruption: How Hunter Biden Spent the 2010s, and Hunter Biden’s Sordid Lies.

OUR EXCERPTS ARE FREE-RANGE AND GRASS-FED, AND YOU CAN TASTE THE DIFFERENCE

Biden’s highly anticipated, highly hyped summit with Putin ended with agreements of dubious worth — and a typically fact-free Putin press conference afterward. More from the editorial:

If the Russian president has any intention of changing direction, he didn’t indicate it during his solo falsehood-filled press conference that followed the three-hour meeting with Biden and his aides. Putin appeared to relish his role at the podium, hitting softball questions from Russian state media and parrying U.S. reporters’ queries with what Biden later termed “ridiculous” whataboutist answers. He denied that Russia perpetrates cyberattacks, instead claiming that the U.S. leads the world in the field. Asked repeatedly about his penchant for jailing, shooting, and poisoning Russian journalists and opposition figures, Putin invoked Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. war in Afghanistan, said he doesn’t want a Russian equivalent of Black Lives Matter and the Capitol riots, and defended his brutal squelching of dissent by citing the arrests of the January 6 rioters. . . .

The two sides agreed to a strategic dialogue that seeks to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures” and to each return its respective ambassador to the other’s capital following a recent dispute in which Russia recalled its Washington envoy after Biden called Putin a “killer.” But potential bilateral arms-control agreements with Russia carry the risk of unacceptably constraining us in the Indo-Pacific unless they include China, too, and getting Russia’s ambassador back to Washington isn’t exactly an urgent priority, especially given Putin’s aggression in recent months.

K-Lo cheers this week’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling against the city of Philadelphia in a major foster-care case:

I keep thinking of Cecilia Paul. She was one of the foster mothers who poured her heart out to vulnerable children in Philadelphia. She died over the course of the court case that was decided today by the Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling against the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia severed its contract with Catholic Social Services because of Catholic Church teaching on marriage – a position that most Democrats had relatively a half second ago. . . .

This is not a case about gay rights, as much commentary going into Pride month has put it. This is a case about children and foster families. Philadelphia’s move was an attack on religious liberty and pluralism. It was a move that did not have the best interest of children and families in mind. And I’m convinced Cecilia Paul died of a broken heart because she could not love as she was accustomed to, knowing the need.

Adults have some fundamental differences these days. We’re not going to come to agreements anytime soon. But can we agree that children should not suffer more than they already are? Let Catholic Social Services serve according to conscience and let there be other choices. We need to learn to live together again, and with the best interest of suffering children as a priority.

Kyle Smith kicks off his series on Hunter Biden’s memoir of drug-addled days by drawing the comparison to the other famous, yet much more capable, drug-addled Hunter:

From what Biden tells us, in the three years before his father announced his presidential candidacy, he spent night after night crawling into the worst neighborhoods in America hundreds of times, probably thousands of times, dealing with the worst characters, flush with money and willing to do almost anything for the next hit. Advantage was taken by certain fellows whose specialty it is to separate crack fiends from their money. . . .

Watching Biden’s insane drug odyssey crash across the country against a backdrop of big-time politics recalls the adventures of a previous Hunter, one who was actually sharp and talented. There are even several mentions of ibogaine, the drug Hunter S. Thompson made famous when he fancifully accused a straitlaced presidential candidate, Ed Muskie, of being in its grip in 1972. As for Hunter S. Biden, well, imagine Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as rewritten by a dullard lawyer with a vestigial sense of privileged pompositude and a lot of hurt feelings about his mistreatment by Fox News Channel. Why, how dare they accuse this upstanding citizen of being some sort of icon of corruption? All he did was accept a million bucks a year from a Ukrainian energy firm in exchange for attending two annual meetings, then set out to blow it all on crack and strippers.

MBD examines what has led teachers and parents alike to speak out against a politicized and racialized education movement, and finds at the root a truce torn:

Fundamentally, the conflict is about whether students should be educated to have an allegiance to the historic American nation and its institutions, or whether they should be educated to have an allegiance to a notion of “justice” and to an egalitarian ethic that fundamentally seeks to critique those institutions, radically reform them, or replace them altogether.

This conflict is the result of a broken truce. The uneasy but mostly accepted way of teaching American history at the secondary level was to reconcile the above impulses by teaching an allegiance to the historic American nation and its institutions, precisely because that nation and its institutions embodied or enabled the pursuit of a more perfect and just union and the spread of democratic values. In effect, American high-school education took from Martin Luther King Jr. the notion of our Founding and its documents as promissory notes. This truce, if it was noticed at all, tended to be critiqued only by paleoconservatives.

But, in the last six or seven years, that truce has become untenable as it has come under assault from the Left. As predicted, progressives have adopted a set of ideological commitments — and experienced a series of setbacks — that impel them to reject major features of our Constitution. They are objections to its most anti-majoritarian features — the Electoral College, the Senate, and, in many cases, the Bill of Rights. The far more aggressive critique of the Founders and their work serves this larger agenda of constitutional reform and revolution. The pedagogy in colleges has finally worked its way down to the secondary level.

And on that topic, Ryan Mills zooms in on one particular battle over CRT at a Kentucky high school:

The battle lines were drawn. There were dueling petitions for and against the class. And as has happened repeatedly in schools nationwide, parents and community members quickly retreated to their respective ideological camps.

To opponents of the course, it was apparent this was an attempt to inject critical race theory into the school, even if the syllabus doesn’t specifically mention it. “Anyone who believes this particular course is not critical race theory doesn’t understand what critical race theory is,” said Maggie McCluskey, a mom who helped lead the opposition to the class.

To supporters of the course, the opponents were flaunting their white privilege and trying to whitewash American history. “Many critics want to shroud themselves in the European fairytale that downplays the role of slavery and racism in our country’s foundation,” wrote Bonnie Jean Feldkamp, a newspaper columnist and Fort Thomas native who in May attended a packed community meeting about the proposed course.

The Kentucky case is emblematic of the cultural battles raging across the country in American schools, both public and private. While much of the attention has focused on schools on the liberal coasts or in big progressive cities, groups such as Parents Defending Education have noted that in many cases, like in Fort Thomas, the battles are raging in conservative communities in red states, including Utah, OklahomaTexas, and Florida.

Shout-Outs

Paul Siewers, at First Things: Academic ‘Settler Culture’

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, at UnHerd: Is the EU about to crumble?

Matt Lamb, at the College Fix: University art department wants to hire an ‘Anti-Racism by Design’ tenured professor

Tevi Troy, at the Wall Street Journal: White House Calls Off the Dogs in the Great Hunt for Leaks

CODA

Mel, from . . . well, he didn’t give a location, so we’ll arbitrarily assign him one . . . Mel, from Tucson (maybe?), writes in with a suggested tune, having noticed with some delight our mention of Don Menza’s solo from “Channel One Suite” a couple weeks back. He recommends, as strongly as one can, the sax man Pete Christlieb — specifically his work on “Limehouse Blues.”

This was a new one to me, and one gem of a discovery. You can listen to it here. Christlieb has had a rich career, playing with The Tonight Show house band for many years, acts ranging from Natalie Cole to Steely Dan (listen for him in “Deacon Blues”), and his own ensembles.

Now, the Coda has gotten a wee bit sax heavy in recent weeks, so promises, promises to veer off into other instrumental space soon — that is, unless Bleeding Gums Murphy’s estate releases a posthumous track. That’s two Simpsons references in this newsletter, for those keeping score at home.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

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