Jon Stewart may have been the only television news commentator in America on Monday who did not pounce on Rep. Anthony Weiner and beat him up verbally for admitting he lied about his Twitter gaffe. Stewart was in an awkward position, having acknowledged last week that Weiner is an old friend, but even so, his restraint was striking. Of course, in the context of a TV news day that preceded Weiner’s extraordinary, lengthy apology and interrogation by the (mostly) legit news media and the equally extraordinary hijacking of Weiner’s announcement by blogger Andrew Breitbart, Stewart’s giving a virtual pass to Weiner wasn’t nearly the most striking event of the news cycle.
Still, it was fascinating to see how a satirist in Stewart’s position finessed it. He showed the Twitter photo of Weiner’s bare chest and joked that he was jealous that “a, he’s packing jumbo heat and b, he’s f—in’ ripped.” Which led to a segment called “Jon Stewart Unloads on Anthony Weiner’s Chest,” ostensibly ridicule of Weiner’s torso (he had such deep cleavage, a tiny James Franco was shown trapped in it) but really, in the way the segment was worded, a joke on Stewart himself. In a comic sense, Stewart took a bullet for his pal. That’s loyalty. That’s almost kind of classy… except for what he did next, which was to really unload on John Edwards. For Edwards (to be sure, not someone who merits sympathy), Stewart started throwing around the word “s—” and assert that Edwards “could not sink any lower.” Thus Edwards became a way for Stewart to reassert his fearless-honesty cred while sidling around what he invariably referred to as “Anthony Weiner’s c—.”
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The non-comedians on cable news were less willing to let Weiner go. On Fox News, Sean Hannity conducted an interview with a triumphant Breitbart (after all, the unnervingly self-righteous dunderhead had called for, and got, a public apology from Weiner). Bill O’Reilly said Weiner’s scandal “erodes confidence in the federal government,” and brought on numerous guests to echo this sentiment for most of his hour. O’Reilly tried to place the events in perspective, suggesting it was “an example of human frailty” and “no one should be happy about this.” On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, who has in the past expressed her admiration for Weiner and had him on as a guest, was every bit as tough on Weiner as her conservative counterparts, placing him on the “Post-Bill Clinton Modern American Political Sex Scandal Consequence-O-Meter” that compared Weiner’s sins to other shamed politicians on a scale of creepiness and prosecutability. (He ranked pretty damn “icky,” to use Maddow’s terminology.)
The one thing everyone, from Stewart to O’Reilly to Maddow could agree upon this day? Sarah Palin really doesn’t know what Paul Revere did.