As something more than a comedian yet not quite a journalist, Jon Stewart holds a singular place in American culture. With his final episode of "The Daily Show” approaching, here’s a look back at highlights from his 16 years as host of the satirical news show -- definitive moments when he proved his abilities as not only a humorist, but also a media critic, Iraq war skeptic, advocate for 9/11 responders and champion of authentic New York pizza.
Many fans discovered “The Daily Show” during the 2000 presidential campaign and the subsequent messy recount in Florida, a political circus tailor-made for Stewart’s pointed satire. In the clip above, Stewart reacts to the news that, following a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, George W. Bush would be the next president of the United States. “Fun fact: Al Gore got 350,000 more votes nationally,” Stewart noted. “I bet Al Gore will get a big kick out of that."
First show after 9/11
“The Daily Show” returned to the air nine days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Stewart’s poignant, patriotic and somehow still funny remarks were an early high point in his career, the first of many times that he’d provide some reassurance in moments of national crisis as he did most recently following the racially motivated murders of nine churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.
Iraq war skeptic
Stewart’s unique role as a quasi-journalist was cemented during the 2003 invasion of Iraq , when “The Daily Show’s” skeptical take on the case for war set it apart from many traditional news outlets.
“It’s been difficult to have an honest discussion about the direction President Bush is taking this country,” said Stewart. Heeding “the new mandate that criticizing the commander in chief is off limits in wartime,” Stewart instead used comments made by Bush while he was governor of Texas to undermine his actions as commander in chief, in a textbook “Daily Show” montage-of-hypocrisy.
In 2004, Stewart made headlines with an appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire,” in which he called hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala “partisan hacks” and said the right-left shoutfest was “hurting America.” CNN canceled “Crossfire” three months later, with the network’s then president Jonathan Klein saying, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise.” (Never mind that the network tried reviving it in 2013.)
Stewart vs. Cramer
As the economy hit rock bottom in 2009, Stewart gave voice to the nation’s populist outrage in a heavily publicized March 2009 face-off with CNBC host Jim Cramer. He accused Cramer, and the financial press more broadly, of shirking their journalistic duty and hyping the market in a way that was “disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.” The episode, a public relations disaster for Cramer, was one of the most-watched in the show’s history.
The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
An estimated 200,000 admirers turned out at the National Mall in 2010 for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, an event that was intended as a display of unity amid a toxic political climate. “Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives,” said Stewart, who called for an end to partisan bickering but mostly just proved his ability to draw a crowd.
Advocating for healthcare for 9/11 first responders
After Senate Republicans filbistured a bill that would have provided $4.2 billion in healthcare to 9/11 first responders (and was named for James Zadroga, an NYPD officer who worked at ground zero and later died of respiratory illness), Stewart stepped directly into the role of advocate. He dedicated his final broadcast of 2010 to the subject, inviting four first responders onto his show to speak about their health problems and ridiculing the GOP for “turn[ing] 9/11 into a catchphrase” yet failing to provide for those who were on the frontline. The shaming seems to have worked: A modified version of the bill passed just under the wire in the closing hours of Congress that year. (Stewart was similarly passionate in his criticisms of the Obama administration over lengthy delays faced by veterans seeking medical treatment.)
Glenn Beck impersonator
During his days on Fox News, Glenn Beck was a reliable source of material for "The Daily Show,” never more so than when Stewart broke out some glasses and a chalkboard for a lengthy impression of the conspiracy-minded pundit. It was a rare moment in which Stewart moved away from his desk to step into character, and was all the more memorable for it.
Stewart is a man with passionate opinions that extend far beyond the realm of politics. And Stewart stepped into the role of food critic in 2011 when he delivered an epic rant about Donald Trump’s questionable decision to share a slice of pizza with Sarah Palin at the Times Square outpost of a mediocre chain – and, worst of all, to eat said slice with a fork and knife. As a native of the tri-state area, Stewart naturally has strong opinions about pizza.
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