We can live without Jon Stewart’s comedy when he gives up his gig on The Daily Show later this year. But his astounding grilling of New York Times reporter Judith Miller last night was a reminder that we’ll be hard-pressed to replace his journalistic chops when it comes to interviewing, or — more accurately — his refusal to be a megaphone for newsmakers peddling garbage.
Miller, who carried water for the Bush administration during the run up to the war in Iraq, has a book coming out and it was clear during her uncomfortable performance that she’d have rather been anywhere else than in a studio answering the kind of questions that she didn’t ask as a reporter.
“I believe that you helped the administration take us to the most devastating mistake in foreign policy that we’ve made in a hundred years,” Stewart said.
“I wasn’t alone,” Miller said, taking no responsibility for anything other than merely repeating what she was told at the time.
Stewart wasn’t buying it. It took effort, he said, to shift the country from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Miller, sensing Stewart was moving in for the kill, noted that Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton favored war in Iraq.
“Idiocy is bipartisan,” Stewart responded.
“The intelligence was not what it was and not everyone got it wrong,” Stewart said.
“Somebody pointed the light at Iraq and that somebody was the White House and the Defense Department and Rumsfeld,” he said of the defense secretary who was looking for a reason for war in Iraq.
“All journalists are manipulated and all politicians lie,” she said.
But Stewart persisted, citing fact after fact pointing that Miller’s work depended on material fed to her from the White House, even as she still denied knowing that it did.
“Were we not supposed to report what it was that had the community, the intelligence community, so nervous about Saddam?” Miller said.
“In the context that this administration was very clearly pushing a narrative and by losing sight of that context, by not reporting….” Stewart started to say.
“I think we did,” Miller responded.
“I wholeheartedly disagree with you,” said Stewart.
“That’s what makes journalism,” Miller said.
“It’s actually not what makes journalism,” Stewart shot back.
“These discussions always make me incredibly sad,” Stewart said. “I feel like they point to institutional failure at the highest levels and no one will take responsibility.”
“I think they point to intelligence failures that I still worry about every day because we’re still relying on the same intelligence communities to give us information about Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and the other countries we have to deal with,” Miller said.
“Well given this same effort,” Stewart said of Miller’s, “we’ll get to invade all of them soon.”
Stewart wasn’t rude. He didn’t yell. He didn’t muzzle his guest. He merely proved Miller’s journalistic malpractice with what Miller disregarded in her work. Facts.
It was brilliant journalism.