May 18, 2011

Jon Stewart vs Bill O’Reilly: Common, Obama, carnival barkers & race. ~ Harris Mercer

I’ll be honest: much as I love Jon Stewart, I often find his occasional confrontations with Bill O’Reilly disappointing. When he ventures into O’Reilly’s lair, he always fares impressively, but (perhaps because the Fox News producers get to edit what he says) the skewering is never as satisfying as it is on The Daily Show. O’Reilly is so brash, so aggressive, and so utterly shameless that he usually manages a decent comeback.

Not this time.

Stewart and O’Reilly’s back-and-forth about the rapper Common’s attendance at the White House Poetry Slam, which Fox News went completely ape-shit about last week, prompting a response on The Daily Show and a challenge from O’Reilly to debate the issue, could not have been a more one-sided victory for Stewart and his cause of sanity. Here’s Part 2:

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing (both clips are short, about five minutes each, and well worth the time), there’s an especially great moment toward the end when Stewart (who, if you’ll remember, more or less single-handedly shamed Republicans into allowing the Zadroga Bill to provide health care for 9/11 first responders through the Senate, giving him some credibility on law enforcement issues) calls on O’Reilly to drop his nonsense claim that Obama is embracing a pro-cop killing rapper, and use his platform to take on a cause that means something:

Let’s have us agree to promote a reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons, because that doesn’t celebrate killing cops metaphorically, or figuratively; it tries to get weapons that kill cops, literally, off the streets. That’s important. This is nothing. …And why don’t you get the entire apparatus here, the infection machine that is the overreaction…

And O’Reilly cuts him off. But the damage is done; his buffoonery is as completely exposed as will ever be allowed on his own show. (I guess even Murdoch’s editors wouldn’t cut that whole exchange. Last time Stewart went on, the unedited interview was posted online and O’Reilly’s paid hacks were widely mocked for how much they had sliced and diced it to make their boss not look like he’d gotten his ass handed to him.)

Of course, O’Reilly won’t change. And Fox News will move on to the next issue, and all its viewers, trapped in their 24-hour politico-pundit-panic-conflictonator of epistemic closure, will continue to believe that their moderate, technocratic president is a Kenyan black supremacist socialist Muslim atheist out to “take away your gun and give it to a Mexican to kill your God” (as Bill Maher said).

But while Stewart was right to focus on Fox’s hypocrisy, let’s not overlook the racial side to all of this; in the end, that’s what the fake “controversy” about Common is all about. The blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates posted something spot-on about the impact this can have in the perceptions of young minority children:

Common is the dude in the Gap ad. His mother is a teacher. Shirley Sherrod is a victim of white supremacist terrorism, who lectures black people on seeing their own prejudice. Eric Holder went to Stuyvesant. Michelle Obama’s mother was a homemaker. Her parents forfeited a full athletic scholarship to send Michelle Obama’s brother to Princeton. They used to watch the Brady Bunch together.

If Common is disturbing, Shirley Sherrod wants to discriminate against white people, Michelle Obama is obsessed with Whitey, and Barack Obama has a hatred of white people, then the rest of us are in real trouble. When you talk about “nonthreatening” this really is the best we’ve got.

When broad sections of this country foolishly follow a carnival barker in the ugly tradition of attacking black citizenship rights, when pundits shriek that Obama’s successes are simply the result of the misguided largess of white people, they undermine our most intimate war. They undermine the notion that someone familiar to that kid on the corner could legitimately reach the highest levels of the country, that someone like that kid’s Aunt could be the First Lady. They undermine this country’s social contract, and the “hard work pays” message of my parents. And to that we object.

For if they will not take as legitimate a magna cum laude from their highest institutions, if they will not accept a man who tells black kids to cut off the video games and study, who accedes to their absurd requests one week, and slays their demons the next, who will they accept? Who among us would they ever believe?


Harris Mercer is a new resident of Boulder and a native of New York City. He served as National High School Director with Students for Barack Obama at Obama for America throughout the Democratic presidential primaries in 2007 and 2008. At Bennington College in Bennington, VT he got to study both his obsessions: politics and Shakespeare. He can be reached at harrismercer [at] gmail [dot] com and wants you to go to http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com.

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