Split Indecision: Stewart spreads blame

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As he gets ready to preside over his third set of political conventions, "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart said that from the show's standpoint, it doesn't matter who wins the presidency in November.

"For our show, it's absolutely irrelevant who's president," Stewart said Monday at a small gathering of reporters ahead of "Daily Show's" telecasts from the Democratic National Convention here.

"The jokes will be there, I'm confident," he said.

Stewart declined to say which candidate he will vote for in November, though he said he thinks he has made up his mind.

"I think they would both be decent presidents," Stewart said.

He made no bones about his dislike for the Bush administration, saying that it hasn't governed with public honor. Comparing the current president with contenders John McCain and Barack Obama, Stewart said the new candidates would "both govern from a place that is far less imperious."

But Stewart didn't reserve his fire just for Bush. He criticized the 24-hour cable news cycle, the sometimes cozy relationship of journalists and their sources in politics and government and the evening newscasts.

He told the room of print reporters from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and elsewhere that the country's news agenda shouldn't be led by the news channels.

"They've forced everything on a gerbil wheel," he said.

Stewart spoke passionately about the future of newspapers, which he said should be thriving as news sources — though not necessarily in print — amid the cable news-led cycle. But he said the network evening newscasts eventually will be a thing of the past because it's a different media environment today.

"The nightly news is sort of the aggregator that will die — the idea that someone will come home at 6 p.m. and watch, 'In tonight's fleecing of America …,' " Stewart said. "They were fleecing us at 11."

Stewart said frequent "Daily Show" guest McCain hasn't complained about how he's been treated on the program.

"My guess is that it's not particularly on his radar," Stewart said.

He added that "Daily Show" has a role: "We're here to introduce him to 20-year-olds smoking out of apple bongs," he joked.

"Daily Show" — which, as with previous elections, is billing its tongue-in-cheek coverage as Indecision 2008 — has been preparing for the conventions for a long time. Because it's taped in the late afternoon, before the night's speeches, there's no way to incorporate them into that night's show. The crew works feverishly through the night to cut the video and write about those speeches and events, which then go into the next day's episode.

"We have no actual journalistic capability," Stewart said. "We don't have the ability to report. … That takes a lot of time to synthesize."

So the program has spent a long time before the convention preparing taped pieces that, though Comedy Central asked reporters to refrain from disclosing details, include a healing tent, puppets and even a puppy.

Some things are ripe for satire for the convention's locale, which Stewart joked might not do much for claims that the Democrats are elitist.

"They chose a place where it is literally a mile above the American people," Stewart said. Mount Olympus, he said, must have already been booked. (partialdiff)
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