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How Trump conned the media, according to Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart has been done with "The Daily Show" for years, but he's still one of the strongest media critics...

Posted: Nov 1, 2018 10:00 AM
Updated: Nov 1, 2018 10:00 AM

Jon Stewart has been done with "The Daily Show" for years, but he's still one of the strongest media critics around.

In a new interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Stewart chided journalists for taking President Trump's "bait" and taking his anti-media attacks too personally.

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First, Stewart shared a familiar critique: That Trump is "giving you all cash," that he's helping the bottom lines of media companies due to the unending news and debate about all things Trump.

While that might be an issue for news executives, Amanpour said, journalists "believe that our job is to navigate the truth and to do the fact-checking and all the rest of it."

"But I think the journalists have taken it personally," Stewart said. "They're personally wounded and offended by this man. He baits them and they dive in, and what he's done well, I thought, is appeal to their own narcissism, to their own ego."

Stewart said that when Trump derides the media — with "enemy-of-the-people" type talk — "the journalists stand up and say, 'We are noble, we are honorable — how dare you, sir.'"

This has been a common point of tension in the past two years. Some press critics and editors say that outraged reactions to Trump further fuels his anti-media messaging.

In a column earlier this week for Vox, editor at large Ezra Klein said the media reacts to Trump's rhetoric in a perfectly reasonable way: "We cover Trump's statements as outrageous and aberrant; we make clear where he's lied or given succor to violent paranoiacs; we fret over the future of the free press. And then Trump and his loyalists point to our overwhelmingly negative coverage and say, 'See? Told you they were the opposition party.'"

A vicious cycle, in other words, that just keeps getting worse.

In the interview with Amanpour, Stewart critiqued journalists for taking Trump's insults personally.

With the constant "Trump versus media" tiffs, "he's changed the conversation," diverting attention away from his policies, Stewart said.

"It's all about the fight. He's able to tune out everything else and get people just focused on the fight and he's going to win that fight," Stewart told Amanpour.

Stewart's comments in the interview went viral this week, with many endorsing his view.

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, however, argued that there was a weakness in Stewart's argument: "He attempts a distinction between Trump's 'policies' and his attacks on the media, when in fact his attacks on the media are his most consistent policy. Those attacks started in the first days of his campaign and have only intensified."

Condemnations of news he calls "fake" have been a key part of the president's closing argument ahead of the midterm elections.

Attempts to refute Trump's arguments are, in Stewart's opinion, examples of taking the "bait."

Stewart and his friend Dave Chappelle joined Amanpour for the interview in London.

When she asked "is the Trump era a good era for comedians?" Chappelle said, "I would not even name the era after him." Stewart agreed.

"He's getting too much credit," Chappelle argued. "He's not making the wave. He's surfing it."

"Yeah," Stewart said. "The energy's always been there."

"He just — all he does is sings those people's greatest hits," Chappelle said. "Build a wall. All of these things we've heard before. He just sings all of the songs. He's the only one that — that's been brash enough to do it."

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