Vantage point

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hitchens Swings and Misses

One of my favorite columnists, Christopher Hitchens has written a rare disappointing piece about political satirists.

Weakly written and argued, by the usually stratospheric Hitchens standards. His basic point is valid to some extent. But he makes the mistake of lumping together Franken and Stewart, and then depending largely on Franken excerpts to discredit Stewart. The few excerpts from Stewart are mostly from his Naked Pictures book, which is from 1998, way before he took over TDS, which serves as his main vehicle. In terms of comedic value as well as influence, Franken has nothing on Stewart. Franken is also a lot more partisan and stubbornly lefty, and thus easier to fisk.

The article would have been a lot stronger, had it included excerpts from TDS or TCR and then fisked them. Maybe he does not watch the show. Maybe he just watched some assorted clips and decided that Stewart was as parochial as Franken. As a libertarian watching the show, it is amply evident to me where Stewart's ideological loyalties lie, but I also like the largely equal opportunity fun-poking that gives the show honesty. Hitchens implies that Stewart never made fun of Jeremiah Wright, or does not attack liberal hypocrisy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I remember several instances when Wright was skewered. His show also takes potshots at Obama administration regularly, often pointing out how similar to Bush he is. I remember once, after a particularly scathing attack on Obama, his audience was tch-tch-ing in displeasure, and he had to say "You know, it's OK to make fun of him too!". His show does go after the right most of the times, but Hitchens is implying that he gives the left a complete pass like Franken did, which is not true.

From Hitchens, one of my favorite columnists, I would have expected a more thorough and painstaking fisking of Stewart, not using Franken as a proxy and using quotes from an 11-year-old book.

Also, a small thing that may just be happenstance. The article goes after Franken, Stewart, Colbert and even Wanda Sykes. A name conspicuously missing - Bill Maher, who ranks up there with Franken when it comes to partisan satire. Hitchens is a very regular guest on Maher's show and they seem to share some sort of a bond, probably based on their common interest in dissing religion. So it is curious that an article such as this, which really should include Bill Maher, does not.