(WTNH) Quite a confluence, a “conflation,” if you will, of news from the world of…news. First NBC announced Brian Williams will be suspended for six months without pay for telling tall tales about his Iraq war experiences. Then, on the same day, Jon Stewart announced he’ll be leaving “The Daily Show.” One departs in shame, the other will exit in triumph.
(First off, full disclosure: I know both Stewart and Williams slightly. Brian was weekend anchor at NBC in the late ’90’s when I was weekend anchor for local NYC station WNBC. We’d see each other around 30 Rock every so often, and have nice chats. Stewart and I shared emcee duties once at an autism fundraiser. Haven’t crossed paths with either one of them in 15-years.)
Jon Stewart always made it clear that comedy was his game, and always labeled “The Daily Show” fake news. Brian Williams was the essence of “real” news, but in a sense, comedy helped bring him down. If there’s one retroactive criticism that’s resonating in the oceans of commentary about his demise, it’s that he got caught up being an entertainer more than a newsman; Hosting “Saturday Night Live,” making countless appearances on “The Tonight Show,” and — in a sense making Stewart an enabler to his woes — going on “The Daily Show” more than 20-times.
In retrospect, that probably wasn’t a good career strategy. If you go on comedy talk shows, you have to tell stories. If you tell stories, you might tell some of them in an exaggerated fashion; exaggeration, after all, is a component of good comedy. Not a good recipe, as it turns out (The New York Times is even reporting today that Williams inquired about replacing Jay Leno when Leno left “The Tonight Show”).
But when Stewart, a genuine entertainer, went into satirical news, he became a 17-year sensation. And while Brian Williams hit the talk show circuit with a vengeance, Stewart almost never did. By all accounts he’s a solid, generous, humble dude who lets his program’s comedy speak for itself. It was telling, I thought, that when he left the Comedy Central studio yesterday evening after making his announcement, he waved at the waiting cameras, but said nothing. Just got in his car and went home.
Brian Williams probably should have just gone home after his newscasts more often. But that’s hindsight. He had comedy chops, no one told him to stop being anything other than a great newsman, and hubris took its inevitable toll. Stewart steered clear of that, gave his colleagues and writers all the credit, and will end this chapter of his career as a legendary figure in American comedy and satire.
Funny how things work out.