On the EDge: A comedian as debate moderator?

OPINION — There has been considerable effort on social media to encourage one of the networks to hire comedian Jon Stewart to moderate an upcoming Republican Party presidential debate.

Stewart has, of course, gained a considerable following over the years with his razor-sharp commentary, rising to a level of stardom that is surprising, given the stature of the satellite network he recently retired from.

He’s witty, topical, quick.

He’s well-read, an extremely intelligent student of the human condition.

But, I think he would be a lousy choice as a debate moderator.

I mean, clearly, Stewart’s star shines much brighter than any of the GOP hopefuls he would question. His popularity would surely overpower the debate.

There is also the fact that because of his mostly liberal philosophy, he would be hacked by the right, who would claim his role was lacking in credibility no matter how much he tried to remain objective, and he would come out on the short end. It would taint the proceedings.

Just look what happened to Megyn Kelly after she offered something other than softball questions during the first GOP debates, and she is part of the FOX team.

Now, I like Stewart. I appreciate his wit and candor; his intelligence; his social awareness. But that’s not really what we are looking for in a debate moderator. In fact, during these times, it grows increasingly difficult to find a middle-of-the-roader who can pass the purity test of objectivity.

So, perhaps you can understand why putting Stewart at the heart of the Republican debate would be akin to having Sean Hannity, another well-known network comedian, moderate the Democratic debate.

Powerful social commentary has come, over the years, through comedy, so the impact of Stewart, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert, who takes over for David Letterman on “The Late Show” tonight, is not something unique.

The late George Carlin made some wide, sweeping political statements. So did Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce and, before them, Will Rogers. They proved that the comedic voice could be equally acerbic as humorous. Their barbs were just more palatable because everything always goes better with laughter.

While some would argue that the debates — both sides — are humorous for all the wrong reasons, we must remember that the supposed point of it all is to get the candidates together to discuss the issues of the day.

We all know that these are not real debates, merely question-answer sessions gussied up with a snazzy podium, a bunch of flags in the background and a façile set for the TV cameras to shoot around, adding to the importance of the event.

Let’s also, however, make no mistake about it, these discussions are important. They are supposed to steer voters into making informed decisions about who they will cast a ballot for in the coming election. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a real debate since John F. Kennedy faced off with Richard Nixon. Since then, they have become as vapid as a Miss America contest, the only difference being there is, thankfully, no swimsuit competition.

There have been some good moments since the Kennedy-Nixon dust-up, particularly when Lloyd Bentsen put Dan Quayle in his place with his “I knew John Kennedy” line, and when Ronald Reagan told Walter Mondale that he would not let his opponent’s “youth and inexperience” become an issue.

Mostly, however, these affairs have been little more than well-scripted recitations of blather you can find on any candidate’s website. Even the Donald Trump exhortations have been scripted. It’s reality TV run amok.

That does not make them unimportant, however, because beyond the canned raps about the economy, immigration reform and the other issues of the day, you get a glimpse of how these folks operate, making it impossible to walk away from one of these debates without taking something with you.

The first GOP debate revealed the depth of the dislike between Rand Paul and Chris Christie; the invisibility factor of Ben Carson; the odd mixture that is Mike Huckabee; the bombast of Trump. In a version of the old pro wrestling schlock, the Christie camp has already teased that their candidate “may go nuclear” when they tee it up again. Whether that happens and the debate becomes, again in pro wrestling terms, a Mongolian Death Match remains to be seen.

But, even if it does, Stewart would be a poor referee because everybody would be too busy listening for his comedic punchlines rather than a well-placed knockout punch delivered by one of the candidates.

And that would be a shame because we are, when the dust clears, electing a president, and while many may point at any number of candidates from either side as a joke, the office of the president is no joke. We don’t have to like whoever emerges as the winner, but we do have to show respect for the office. Of course, if you have taken even a token glance at your Facebook page lately, you know that there are a number of people who do not share that idea and have taken savage rips at the president.

There is an inherent problem, though, in choosing a worthy moderator for these debates.

My first reaction is to trot Candy Crowley, who has one of the most amazingly credible reputations in the business. She did a remarkable job when she moderated the second debate between Obama and Mitt Romney. She does not carry the taint of the majority of the clowns who dress themselves up as newsmen and newswomen and purport to give an objective report. She’s been away from the business long enough, after leaving CNN last December, to have disengaged from any of the network’s current image.

There’s Aaron Brown, another CNN alum, who distinguished himself his first day on the job at the network, reporting for duty on Sept. 11, 2001. He has long been thought of as the most cerebral of the modern-day news reporters. He’s not a journalist, he’s a newsman, and there is a heck of a difference.

We also have Jim Lehrer, who has deservedly earned a reputation after his years of digging into the news for PBS as an insightful, credible, intelligent reporter.

Next week we get syndicated radio commentator Hugh Hewitt and CNN’s Jake Tapper when the Republicans go at it again from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.

Hewitt and I share the same opinion of Trump, which is why it is a mistake to put him in the captain’s chair. It just isn’t credible. As far as Jake Tapper, he’s a lightweight when compared with Crowley, Brown and Lehrer.

We wish Jon Stewart well. We hope he will continue to make us smile with his witty, pointed commentary and humor. We will always appreciate his sincerity, his depth, his intelligence.

But, he really has no place in the presidential debates.

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • Bodacious Bob September 8, 2015 at 10:16 am

    I couldn’t disagree more, While Stewart is a comedian. He would bring interest to a dull GOP field and he would not allow anyone to give a ridiculous rebuttal.

  • NotSoFast September 8, 2015 at 11:48 am

    I think I agree with Ed. But maybe George Carlin might be better.
    Abbott & Costello interviewing Clinton would be a blast too.

  • anybody home September 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    We need solid journalists leading these debates – the good ones are now cowed by blowhard candidates. What we don’t need is a professional comedian leading the way. The U.S. is already the laughing stock on the world because of the Trump antics and the responses from other GOP candidates. Let’s not make it any worse than it already it. Our elections were not meant to be Comedy Central.

  • McMurphy September 8, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Stewart is a poor choice only if you take these “debates” seriously. Perhaps when we get down to three or four candidates and each of them can give more fully developed answers the debates may be useful. Right now they are just sound bites.

  • Dexter September 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Perfect. the debates are a joke right now. This whole thing is a 3 ring circus and the clowns will be on stage. and the questions will be asked by the beach ball catching seal.

  • makkie September 9, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Ed koala-
    typical liberal puke comment-
    “I mean, clearly, Stewart’s star shines much brighter than any of the GOP hopefuls he would question”
    What star?
    Stewart is a buffoon.He has no place at ANY debate.Invite him over to your house koala and I am sure the two of you could find much common ground like discussing killing babies and other liberal past times.

    • mesaman September 9, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      Clever, “koala”, provokes images of a cute little marsupial that sleeps 22 hours each day, is irritable when awake, probably made by his diet of eucalyptus leaves. But, regardless, most appreciated. Stewart was not as funny as the warped liberals thought he was and he would be even worse as a moderator; too stuck on his own ego and biases.

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