Comedian Jon Stewart acknowledged on-air Tuesday night that he was wrong in saying Fox News viewers are the "most consistently misinformed media viewers." He had made the statement in a much-discussed interview with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" three days ago. Read about it here from my Tuesday post.
But the comedian then pivoted on a punchline and used his apology to hammer Fox News on what he sees as its lack of credibility. The ultimate message of the segment essentially boiled down to this: OK, I lied, but Fox News lies a lot more than I do, and they never acknowledge their mistakes or set the record the straight.
That might be the way comedians apologize for saying something that turns out not to be true. That's not the way its done in the press and news media. We have higher standards.
And Stewart didn't merely lie, he also cited bogus evidence to support his lie. The comedian didn't directly address the fact that he also falsely said that "every poll" supported his claim of Fox News viewers being the most misinformed.
After showing a brief clip of the Sunday interview on Fox News, Stewart told viewers Tuesday night, "I might have said during the interview that viewers of Fox News are the most consistently misinformed viewers."
After a comedic pause, he continued, "As it turns out, I was misinformed -- which should not have been surprising, because I do watch a lot of Fox News."
After briefly describing PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning fact checking project, he told viewers that, "Ultimately PolitiFact declared my statement false. I defer to their judgment and I apologize for my error."
Then, he executed a deft pivot, saying that not apologizing would be "irresponsible" -- especially if he kept saying things that weren't true and were ideologically driven like, guess who. The rest of the segment was a rip of Fox News in which Stewart listed by my count 21 instances in which PolitiFact had declared something said on Fox as false.
The segment got a little tedious and even obsessive in TV terms, listing one after another going back to 2009, but that was the point: His sin was a tiny one compared the lying liars who lie and almost never apologize, according to Stewart's characterization of Fox.
I am not defending Fox, but in the media that Stewart likes to mock and call "lazy," we don't try to minimize our mistakes by saying they are not as bad as those of others. The New York Times doesn't say in its corrections: "We were wrong and we apologize for the error, but the Wall Street Journal made five such errors. They are far worse offenders than we are."
I know, Stewart isn't really a media critic. He just plays one on TV -- and some people slavishly believe every word he says about the press. And many of those Stewart followers think they are the most informed and savvy of news consumers. Right.