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About (Late) Last Night: Jon Stewart and David Letterman deal with tragedy in different ways [video]


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Arizona Shootings Reaction
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Last night on "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart started out on a modest note. "I would love to say we've got a great show for you tonight," he began. "Not sure that’s the case."

Stewart's ensuing monologue was a sober -- and maybe a touch sanctimonious -- meditation on the tragic shootings that took place Saturday in Arizona. Viewers who tuned in to "The Daily Show" expecting an incisive critique of this weekend's botched reporting, pop-psychologizing and partisan finger-pointing were likely disappointed with Stewart's response.  

In the segment, Stewart acknowledged these expectations. "I can give you a typical compilation of the day's news excesses, but it doesn't really seem appropriate," he said. Faced with an opportunity to address the elephant in the room -- the alleged role of "political rhetoric" in this weekend's massacre -- Stewart threw his hands up in the air. "Did the toxic political environment cause this?  A graphic image here, an ill-timed comment, violent rhetoric, those types of things. I have no ... idea."

The closest Stewart came to making a connection was to assert that all too often the "manifestos of paranoid mad men" sound a lot like the opinions of legitimate pundits. Then he pivoted, assuring viewers that there was solace to be found in all the horror. "You hear about crazy, but it's rarer than you think." 

Stewart probably made the right choice by opting for sincerity, but there was something a touch grandiose about the whole thing; His speech felt more like a "fireside chat" than a talk-show monologue. Stewart has been criticized for being disingenuous about his de facto role as a liberal pundit -- and not merely the host of a "fake news" program, as he claims -- and this segment will no doubt fuel that frustration even more. Did Stewart do the right thing, or wimp out? 

Over on CBS, David Letterman took a completely different tack, charging forward as silly as ever, as if nothing terrible had happened this weekend. If you're not giggling, then you're letting the crazies win: That seemed to be Letterman's motto last night. And though I'm guessing Snooki was booked to deliver the top-10 list weeks ago, her appearance still seemed oddly serendipitous. Decked out in her "guidette" finest, Snooki delivered the "Top 10 Reasons to Buy the New Snooki Book" with surprising aplomb. Viewed in one light, Snooki is the ultimate embodiment of our increasingly insane tabloid culture, a sign of everything that's wrong with the world. On most days, that's how I see her too -- especially now that the barely literate reality star is a published "author." But somehow, after watching Stewart thrashing about to find the exact right thing to say, Snooki's simplicity was, for the first and probably the last time, the perfect balm. Snooki is nothing if not a human cartoon character, Miss Piggy come to life with a tan and hair extensions.  For me at least, that's more comforting than Stewart's hand-wringing.  

Decide for yourself:


What did you think?  

-- Meredith Blake

Comments () | Archives (25)

To the author if this piece: the only sanctimonious person I hear/see is you. Stewart eloquently and gently put to words what so many of us have struggled with since the terrible shooting in Arizona. More specifically, he spoke from his heart with a profundity you haven't even come close to matching. Disagree with his polotics, but to criticize someone for speaking to us, rather than at us, shows how far out of touch you really are with the Daily Show's average viewer.

"Did Stewart do the right thing, or wimp out? "

Does anyone else see the irony in this? Pundits and news agencies use inflamed rhetoric to sell their newspapers and get advertising dollars on their websites and TV shows. That rhetoric comes to life in a real world shooting. Jon Stewart makes a clear decision to step away from that environment for a day and instead reflect on the nature of the industry.

Then the Los Angeles Times critiques him for not being aggressive enough.

I didn't see the show, but it sounds like Stewart handled it well. The police investigation isn't completed yet, so there is no proof as to what role, if any, the political rhetoric played in this event. Much as I dislike Sarah Palin, it would be wrong for Stewart or any other pundit to speculate on her role when their comments may turn out false.

I'm not as willing to pass off the political rhetoric as being to blame - but to imply he was sanctimonious and wimpy is ridiculous. Especially if the next moment you are celebrating Letterman for not discussing it at all!

Had he shown a clip of the rally speech he gave, and then said "See, told you so".

Now *THAT* would have been sanctimonious.

This post is profoundly tone deaf.

Reminds me of the old saw, "Better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

I was at the Jon Stewart show last night and I thought he handled the tragedy very well. It would have been most disrespectful and callous to joke about it, or even offer an opinion when good people have been shot for no apparent cause, except that this was a deranged man and the congresswoman's talk should have been held in an auditorium where security could be in order. We thought he would just ignore the tragedy so as not to hurt feelings of those involved; however, I think it was heroic of him to depart from his usual format, and announced such before the show began. It is true I went to great lengths to honor my tickets for the day and expected a 'normal show'; however, I now have much respect for him and his show, knowing he can be sincere when the occasion arises. Also his comment to think about the good the victims have done, rather than the thoughts and reasons of the deranged man who was responsible, was a wonderful comment on how to go on after this tragedy.

Personally, I'm extremely offended by your attempting to tie Miss Piggy (or any Henson character) to Shnookie or Letterman. Even Oscar the Grouch deserves more respect than that.

Are you saying you're more comfortable with being entertained by a woman with two large breasts and one small brain than a possible provocation of thought?

You've proven yourself to be a dolt.

Seems to me that Jon Stewart is slowly becoming a spokesperson, in his more serious times at least, for a big part of this nation. I for one love his decision to be serious about the events preceding his show, moving aside from his usual approach to the political news. I say Thanks to Jon for being vocal and focused, when most inflate. He raised questions for us as a society to look at.

Letterman - what a goof.

given the current debate regarding overheated rhetoric, I think some of the commenters on this post would be well advised to take a chill pill. it's only a late night recap :)

As a long-time viewer of The Daily Show, I must say that I am proud of the tone Jon Stewart has embraced when it comes to seriously taking a step back and examining the media circus he usually lampoons. No one else has done it; no one else has had enough balls to restrain themselves by choosing a more tactful method of expression, one that is sincere, thoughtful, and respectful, despite his obvious incredulity and disdain for the toxic environment. His rational suggestions are the best balm for these times.

"To the author if this piece: the only sanctimonious person I hear/see is you. "

Really? Because I can see a second person...

Not since Jon's post 9/11 monologue have I heard such an intelligent and sincere expression of what most of us are feeling.


Rusty's post is right-on. And if the writer of this article found Jon's monologue "sanctimonious", then the writer of this article is a shallow idiot. And just so said writer doesn't think this idiocy will increase readership, please note that after posting this I am adding the LA Times to my blocked web site list.

Wow! Clearly there is a difference in show format, Letterman obviously promotes entertainment, while Stewarts' is based on politics. How could Stewart avoid the commentary?

What did you think?

-- Meredith Blake

I think you're an idiot.

I'm sorry Meredith, but I have to ask... Are you human?

Jon Stewart delivers an emotional, poignant commentary on a tragedy that is being felt by many American's at this time, urging restraint and offering a bit of solace.

But instead you prefer the dry, emotionless reading of some meaningless lines off a teleprompter from a brainless, flavor of the week reality star.

It's almost as if you can't be bothered to feel anything for anyone save yourself.

You might want to try doing us all a favor and keep your articles to non-consequential things like what hair products Gweneth Paltrow uses and leave the events that have meaning to more capable writers.


Katherine Saavedra- why do you think the author's an idiot...she did ask you for your own opinion, after expressing HER opinion

It always amazes me how on comment boards online people seem to attack writers/authors for simply having different views than their own. Some of you handled your disagreement with the author well, and some of you used about as much tact and intelligence as Snooki does on a daily basis.

If you are going to attack the author at least say a little more than "you're an idiot"

Letterman often tapes his shows on a previous date. Last night's telecast seemed to have been one of those cases which he recorded last week.

It's a shame that some commenters on this piece find it so easy to write such venomous words about its author. Read carefully, it is clear that the author of this piece is raising questions about Stewart's ability to fully explore the seriousness of the Arizona shootings, given the opportunity he created for himself to do so. This is a short piece of reflection on two late night shows from a single night of television which surely does not merit such nasty responses.

What do I think? That the article celebrating Letterman over Stewart was this era's version of 'fiddle de dee; I'll think about it tomorrow'; a sad commentary on too many people's shocking lack of concern for one another.

I dislike Letterman anyway for his fratboy persona. Stewart sounded like a statesman last night - I was tremendously impressed. That someone could prefer Letterman's childish pranks and - heaven help us - SNOOKIE - over a beautifully articulate statement which was profound and thoughtful is just depressing. It leaves the impression that the writer is has little substance.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I just wanted to step in and say a few things. I didn't mean to suggest that Jon Stewart's monologue was anything less than sincere or heartfelt. I, too, was touched by it--or at least parts of it. But that doesn't mean I didn't take some issue with it. I felt that it was slightly disingenuous of him to back away from the very argument re: the danger of violent political rhetoric that he has been making for months on end (please see this clip: http://bit.ly/glu4zf) at the exact moment it was being adopted by many other pundits and politicians. Also, I really like Jon Stewart, but I feel he can seem a little self-important at times, that he enjoys the status of pundit, yet isn't willing to own up to his role as one. This was one of those occasions.

Finally, re: Snooki. I do not think that Snooki is a more insightful thinker or greater talent than Jon Stewart; Quite the opposite. But I do feel that after a weekend of horrible news, sometimes the best remedy is an easy, uncomplicated laugh, which is what Snooki's top 10 list provided for me. Stewart, who followed up his monologue with a silly segment about old people's sex lives, appears to feel that way too.

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