Jon Stewart defends Marco Rubio against 'game' of political journalism

Comedian Jon Stewart reduced a probe of Marco Rubio's spending habits to a handful of laugh lines, including a reference to Army lawyer Joseph Welch's game-changing response to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, 61 years ago. 

Brad Barket/AP/File
Television host Jon Stewart during a taping of 'The Daily Show' in New York on Nov. 30, 2011.

Jon Stewart thinks The New York Times has gone waaayyy overboard in its examination of Marco Rubio’s personal life in several big stories this week. Mr. Stewart ripped the paper and political journalism in general on Wednesday night in a very funny and painfully true (to a reporter) segment called “Petty in Print."

First, the soon-to-be-ex-host of "The Daily Show” went after the Gray Lady’s piece on Senator Rubio’s driving habits. This Times exposé showed that since 1997, Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, have accumulated 17 traffic tickets. Of these, 13 went to Jeanette.

So, Marco Rubio got four tickets in 17 years, and it’s a story?

“I assume The New York Times got this damning information from Marco Rubio’s plaque in the ‘Hall of Best Miami Drivers Ever,' " Stewart said.

Then the comedian brought up the larger, follow-up Times story on Rubio’s finances. This front-page exposé noted that Rubio bought three houses without putting any money down on two of them. When the Florida lawmaker received $800,000 for a book advance in 2012, he used $100,000 of it to pay off old law school loans, the Times noted.

How dare he lighten his debt load, inveighed Stewart. Facetiously.

“At long last, Senator, have you no sense of insolvency?” the comic said.

(That’s a historical reference, if you didn’t catch it. On June 9, 1954, a brave Army lawyer named Joseph Welch, under questioning from red-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R) of Wisconsin, said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” It broke McCarthy’s public image.

So Stewart's bringing up McCarthyism there in the context of The New York Times's Rubio stories. Pretty tough stuff. 

The segment goes on to mock the Times for reporting on Rubio’s boat and car choices, and his purchase of a home with “oversized windows."

“Oversize windows. What’s the matter, Senator, the normal amount of sunlight isn’t good enough for you?” said Stewart, sarcastically.

The segment wraps up by comparing journalism to a “game,” drawing on a quote from a New York Times reporter about its examination of Rubio being part of “how the game is played."

Stewart notes that the Times’s print product is the just one beginning of the journalistic assembly line, and that other sources, notably television, will pick up the paper’s findings and produce bits that highlight the sensational parts and make them seem far more frightening than they are. In the end, the Times story will become about “Rubio printing counterfeit hundreds in his basement,” according to Stewart.

But it’s all a game, right?

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” Stewart said. (That’s an Ice-T lyric and a slightly newer cultural reference.)

Ouch. But if it’s a game, Stewart plays too: His segment reduced the Times stories to their most ridiculous elements, ignoring such bits as evidence about Rubio’s past use of political funds for private purchases. So the critique might go both directions.

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