People wonder if The Daily Show will be as funny when Jon Stewart moves on. Maybe, Maybe not. But comedy aside, I wonder if the new host will have the same journalistic chops as Stewart.
Judith Miller is making her rounds with a new memoir titled “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey.” She reportedly got a $1.2 million dollar advance for the book — and even the New York Times isn’t buying it. Jon Stewart called it: “The ‘Eat Pray Love’ of getting us into the Iraq war.”
The book is an effort that seems to be, in large part, motored by the disgraced New York Times journalist’s desire to amend the narrative of her life — and, of U.S. history — the public has latched onto for the last decade. Stewart has been one of Miller’s loudest critics, claiming on several occasions that she had a major role in pushing the U.S. into the Iraq war. Naturally, she hit up “The Daily Show” Wednesday night in an attempt to silence a voice which has cemented her unfavorable narrative in place over the years.
Stewart would have none of it. This was not going to be a typical come-on-the-show-and-plug-your-book interview. He had read the book and he was prepared. He gave a master class in adversarial journalism; something Miller was obviously incapable of in the run-up to the war. Several things are notable about the interview that was so contentious you could feel the studio audience holding their collective breath because comedic schtick was being set aside and the type on interviewing that should happen on “Meet The Press” was happening in real time.
“I believe that you helped the administration take us to, like, the most devastating mistake in foreign policy that we’ve made in, like, 100 years… but you seem lovely,” Stewart told Miller, kicking off a combative and entertaining verbal sparring match.
The embattled reporter repeated her typical lines of defense—that the intelligence sources she used were not Dick Cheney or George Bush and “had really never been wrong before,” and that they’d steered her right “on al Qaeda before 9/11” and on a story about the Soviet Union hiding a “huge cache of biological weapons.”
She even, on two occasions, passed some of the blame for the Iraq War narrative onto Bill and Hillary Clinton, saying, “It was Bill Clinton who was worried about Iraq. Long before George Bush bombed Iraq, Bill Clinton did—1998-2000 missions for WMD. What I think changed was that, after 9/11, the risk that America was willing to tolerate just plummeted,” Miller said, also adding that Bush administration officials had “persuaded a lot of Democrats—Hillary Clinton.”
“Well, it turns out idiocy is bipartisan,” cracked Stewart.
Stewart did not let Miller off easy, claiming that Miller partook in a “concerted effort” to lead us into a war with Iraq.
“I think it was a concerted effort to take us into war in Iraq. You had to shift, with energy, the focus of America from Afghanistan and al Qaeda to Iraq. That took effort,” Stewart said. “Somebody pointed the light at Iraq, and that somebody is the White House, and the Defense Department, and Rumsfeld. He said right after 9/11, ‘Find me a pretext to go to war with Iraq.’ That’s from the 9/11 papers and the study.”
All this led to a very heated exchange between Stewart and Miller:
MILLER: “Jon, were we not supposed to report what it was that had the intelligence community so nervous about Saddam?”
STEWART: “No. You should have reported it, though, in the context of this administration was very clearly pushing a narrative, and by losing sight of that context, by not reporting—”
MILLER: “I think we did.”
STEWART: “I wholeheartedly disagree with you.”
MILLER: “That’s what makes journalism.”
STEWART: “It’s actually not what makes journalism…”
After several back-and-forths between the satirist and a deflecting Miller, Stewart closed the interview on a somber note, hardly looking at her and — you’ve heard the expression ‘his contempt was palpable’? — whoa, nelly.
“Alright. We’re obviously never going to see eye-to-eye on it. I appreciate you coming on the program,” Stewart said while looking down at his desk.” These discussions always make me incredibly sad because they point to institutional failure at the highest levels and no one will take responsibility for them.”