Jon Stewart Pleads for Media Attention to Plight of 9/11 First Responders

Jon Stewart - Getty - H 2018
Brad Barket/Getty Images

"If you have the ability to bring some light or attention to what they're having to go through, I think it's a moral responsibility," Stewart told The Hollywood Reporter.

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart on Monday made a passionate case for the media industry to "use your mouthpiece" and "amplify" the plight of the 9/11 First Responders who have suffered from respiratory ailments and cancers stemming from their exposure at Ground Zero.

Stewart joined with congressional Democrats and Republicans to advocate for a bipartisan bill that will extend congressional funding for the First Responders and their families for 70 years, just a week after the Department of Justice announced that payments made through the Victim Compensation Fund will be curtailed for budgetary reasons.

"If there's anyone who's able to break this loose, it's Jon Stewart," said Republican Rep. Peter King of New York. "He brought it out of the political realm, out of the debate, showed what nonsense some of the arguments were against it."

Addressing the reporters who flocked to the U.S. Capitol building for the event, Stewart said, "I know we have a lot of media coverage today, and I know that tomorrow the 24-hour cycle will move on and you'll be discussing the body language of Kim Jong Un and whatever else is going on there, and phones will be ringing, and all kinds of other crap will go on."

Stewart "begged" reporters to speak with some of the victims and families present. "You can amplify their stories," he said. "You can get their stories out to the American people. ... We need your advocacy as well. We need you to use your mouthpiece to get this going."

Stewart said that some of the victims present won't be around for future events, "so get their stories out now. ... This is your opportunity to write a final chapter for these men and women who fought for 18 years."

Before appearing at the press conference, Stewart sat for interviews on the three major cable news networks, including Fox News, which was once a frequent target of Stewart's Daily Show but has consistently provided a platform for 9/11 advocates in the intervening years.

Asked how the media could keep the First Responders' cause in the news, Stewart told The Hollywood Reporter that the story needs "conflict." He added, "That seems to sell. It has to be clickbait or it has to be conflict."

"It's an error of omission, not to keep the coverage going," Stewart told THR. "It's not about advocating to get them to do it. ... For everything [the First Responders] have done, the last thing they deserve is our apathy. This isn't on people's radars. It's a question of: If you have the ability to bring some light or attention to what they're having to go through, I think it's a moral responsibility. It's not advocating in the sense of bias, it's advocating in the sense of truth."

Stewart said the cable news networks "are absolutely necessary. They're crucial to getting the pressure on."

When asked by a reporter for his impression of Donald Trump's presidency, he demurred. "I have no — there's no room to even speak of it," he said. "I'm here to advocate for 9/11 First Responders and their families and the survivors and to get this program renewed properly. That's all we care about."

Following up on his comments during the event about media coverage of President Trump's summit with the North Korean leader, Stewart said, "That's news. There's no bullshit there. They should be talking about that. But, they will also make a meal of nonsense, as they do. We need advocacy, we need advocates."

In a broader critique of the media industry, Stewart said: "The model is based on conflict. I'm talking about the 24 hours. Print, I think, is a different animal, and generally, especially, non-pure internet print is generally pretty sober and has a sense of proportion. Internet culture is clickbait. So, what's done is: The 24 hours are the nuclear reactor. They generate the conflict content. Then, the internet comes in and they pick out the moments — the gold, the ore of conflict, the real, like most clickbait-y, most volatile moment, and they amplify it and they skew the picture. That's how the climate continues to feed itself. It's a conflictonator, but that's what it's based on. And, so, if the system is incentivized to that, and that's where the money is, it's going to be very hard to get them to generate the kind of — and why this doesn't qualify for that, I don't know."