Red Herring Sunday

This video of Jon Stewart on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace is a great example of a defense mechanism folks use to keep themselves from having productive political discussions.

About 4:44 in Stewart explains to Wallace:

Here’s the difference between you and I.  I’m a comedian first.  My comedy is informed by an ideological background…but the thing you will never understand, and the thing that in some respects conservative activists will never understand is that Hollywood, yeah, they’re liberal, but that’s not their primary motivating force.  I’m not an activist.

This ploy serves a useful purpose.  It keeps him from having to defend his actual ideological views.

He changes the subject by saying, “I’m a comedian first” and then the conversation goes on a red herring romp about who’s more biased.

I’ve encountered a number of folks who use a similar technique.  They say things to push your political hot buttons and when you attempt to respond, they back off from a real discussion by accusing you of being too passionate or taking it too seriously.

From my Discussion Tips page, I’ve found this to be an effective way to deal with such nonsense:

Do you mind if I ask you to explain why you think that?

If they say that they’d rather not, then respond:

Then I’d appreciate it if you not bring up the subject unless you are willing to discuss it.  I’d love to learn more about your thinking and share with you mine.  But, I’d rather you not just jab me for the fun of it.  I try not to do that to you because I doubt you’d appreciate it and I try to be respectful.

Here’s how I might adapt it for Stewart.

To be honest Jon, it doesn’t matter to me how you think you are different from me or what you think your primary motivation is.  Those are red herrings.

The fact is that you do make public political statements.  I’m much more interested in learning more about the ideological background that informs your comedy and why you hold those views.

4 thoughts on “Red Herring Sunday

  1. Excellent point!

    Maybe it was a “redirect” in that Stewart is unable to articulate his actual position. -Or- is an ideology based on “the way things ought to be” impossible to articulate?

    • I think you are right on W.E. A couple times I heard him attempt to get past the red herring on the Oprah show and it was inarticulate blather of the “the way things ought to be” nature.

      Should be a lesson for interviewers. Dispel with the bias discussion, identify something where he actually makes a political statement and peel that apart. I was disappointed to see Wallace pick a piece Stewart did on Palin comparing the editing style of a video to a commercial for some dubious product. I would have to agree with Stewart on that one, that was comedy.

  2. I was surprised Wallace did not respond with this:

    “John, you can say you are a comedian first. But you are in this interview because all your comedy is so far to the left, not because you are funny. So it is your ideology that we are talking about today. It pervades everything you do and say.”


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