Kudos to the Daily Show, but a breakthrough? or the exception proves the rule

Recently the Daily Show (see the full interview here, part 1 and part 2) had two seemingly really controversial guests. Not John Bolton, the notorious UN-hating US ambassador to the UN, nor the deposed Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, or any one of a host of far right blowhards or neo-cons such as, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Kristol, Cliff May, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith (so responsible for the debacle in Iraq), all former guests.

No, these two guests had always advocated for peaceful solutions to really dreadful problems, and they had done so in the face of an implacable and violent enemy.  The Jewish American Anna Baltzer and the Palestinian Mustafa Barghouti have been formidable in confronting, with dignity and courage, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  Either, on their own, would have made worthy guests for Jon Stewart.

Anna Baltzer has written a book about her experiences working for peace in the West Bank, “A Witness in Palestine”, and spent a great deal of time doing non-violent resistance. Dr. Barghouti, in so many ways, medically through his heading of the Union of Palestinian medical relief societies (UPMRC) and politically through his unsuccessful run for the Palestinian presidency on the “third way” platform, has been involved in trying to counter the occupation and promote civil society in Palestine. They are both well-spoken and it was, given the current media environment, unambiguously,  a very courageous act for Jon Stewart to have them on.

Indeed, we at JVP and Muzzlewatch, heartily applaud their appearance. But the question arises, why should this be considered such a brave/perilous step?  The Daily Show has had war criminals, scurrilous demagogues, people whose stock and trade are the offering of vicious lies and calls for violence.   The appearance of Baltzer and Barghouti was unprecedented for several reasons.  The Daily Show never has two guests on at once and there was an actual heckler!?! (the first in 11 years). Similar to the right-wing representative  who called Obama a liar in his speech to congress, the Daily Show heckler called out ‘liar” during the taping of the show, a comment that, interestingly, was not edited out.

What really gives here? My question is rhetorical: we all know that getting the simple truth out is extremely difficult in the US mainstream media and that this difficulty is not an accident but a highly cultivated and defended tool of the “pro-Israel” forces. So, any such large scale media exposure is certainly a kind of victory. Yet acknowledging and appreciating this in as full blooded a manner as possible, it’s still difficult to get one’s head around the idea that having such capable people on the show requires so much setup, worry, and courage. Although it’s pretty clear that Mr. Stewart is actually quite sympathetic to non-mainstream views regarding the Middle East, (during the Gaza invasion Jon Stewart completely demolished the “crazy man at the door” example used by mainstream pro-Israeli  supporters) he still had to play the ingenuous devil’s advocate when talking with the two.  Similarly, Bill Moyers had to do the same thing when talking with Richard Goldstone. Both brought up one old canard after another, as if this has now become ritualized.

I’m not blaming either, but pointing out that, while such “walking on eggshells” is needed here, Stewart can go “hammer and tong” against Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, Feith, et al on any other topic while Bill Moyer’s has always been a powerful progressive counter-voice to the prevailing right-wing Weltenschauung.

So, although, it could be claimed that this appearance is a breakthrough of sorts, my sense is more that this is the exception that proves the rule.  Simply put, in terms of the mainstream media, there is virtually no cost to being as “pro Israel” as possible, this is the same for politics in the US.  And conversely, there is no limit to the level of threat and pain that can be brought to bear on those not toeing the “pro-Israel” line.

This is why groups such as JVP and J-street need to change the environment so there is a perceptible cost to such one-sided approaches.  It certainly is a testament to  Anna Baltzer and Dr. Barghouti that some elements of mainstream media considered it important to have them as guests.  Perhaps the horror of Operation Cast Lead, as detailed in the Goldstone report,  may actually be forcing the issue somewhat. But the stark fact that such relatively small breakthroughs are hailed as being so important less than a year after the obvious horrors of Cast Lead simply underscores how much work we still have to do.

No matter the ultimate implication of having these two wonderful people on the Daily Show, you can do your part and send a letter of support to Comedy Central, http://www.comedycentral.com/help/questionsCC.jhtml

-Rob Lipton