With no Jewish politician vying for a major national post this election year, it has fallen once again to Jon Stewart at the helm of “The Daily Show” to keep the fight fair and the conversation haimish.
Stewart, born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz in Lawrenceville, N.J., wears his loyalties to New Jersey, Judaism and honest (though mostly Democratic) politics on his sleeve. Having won two Peabody Awards (bestowed for “distinguished and meritorious public service”) for the show’s election coverage in 2000 and 2004, Stewart, 49, upped the ante this year with a much-hyped Web-streamed debate with right-wing Fox TV host Bill O’Reilly. They called the clash the “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium.”
While on the face of it Stewart and O’Reilly might seem like another two partisan surrogates slugging it out, Stewart’s interest in the event seemed to be as much in the fourth estate as in the issues at hand. His comments addressed policies, but also kept the spotlight on the deep and often unacknowledged problems of journalistic integrity faced by reporters as network and cable television news becomes increasingly partisan.
His shtick is not Borsht Belt, but it is deeply Jewish. Responding to the rhetoric of victimhood that complains that multiculturalism has destroyed Christmas, he retorted: “I’m a Jew. If you think that Christmas isn’t celebrated in this country then walk a mile in my Hanukkah shoes.” For another election year, Stewart has kept journalists on their toes, politicians accountable and audiences entertained with his hilarious — and serious — satire.