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

January 11, 2011 |  8:13 am

 

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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
twitter.com/MeredithBlake

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