Stewart Gets Serious, Makes the Case for Sanity

Jon Stewart speaks to an estimated crowd of 150,000 Saturday afternoon at the "Rally to Restore Sanity." photo/Cliff1066 at flickr.

by Matthew L. Schafer

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert welcomed thousands to the National Mall this afternoon. While the fake-news hosts dubbed the event “Rally to Restore Sanity,” Stewart’s final speech was a recognition that sanity, while leaving Washington and cable news, never left the lives of everyday Americans.  Part chastising the government, part chastising the media, Stewart’s critique brought laughter and applause.

“I can’t control what people think this was, I can only tell you my intentions,” Stewart said.  “This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that the times aren’t difficult and that we have nothing to fear.  They are and we do.”

Stewart’s speech capped off the three hour rally, which also hosted musical acts like Ozzy Ozbourne and Yusef Islam and was peppered with comedic events.  While Stewart criticized media’s obsessive nature, the rally organizers saw over 1,000 requests for press credentials–400 received them–and over four thousands articles of the event were written before 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“If we amplify every, we hear nothing,” Stewart said, citing media coverage that insists on sensational coverage.

Stewart’s most applauded portion of the speech came as he spoke about Americans who compromise everyday.  While video of cars merging into a tunnel played in the background, Stewart argued that people’s lives are based on compromise despite the fact that so little compromise is seen in politics or highlighted by the national media.

“This is us. Everyone of the cars you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear–often principles and beliefs in opposition to their fellow travelers” Stewart said.  “And yet these millions of cars most find a way to squeeze one-by-one into a mile long 30-foot wide tunnel carved beneath a mighty river and they do it–concession by concession.”

The impact of Stewart’s rally remains unforeseen, but its message has an uphill battle against a well-established political culture of partisanship.  Indeed, Stewart has made a living over the past ten years by calling politicians and pundits on the absurdity they create.  Nonetheless, the absurdity continues.  If any change is to occur, it has to be by the want of the media.  And, clearly, that want is not there, as absurdity and sensationalism sell.  Fox News, which arguably deals in the greatest amount of sensationalism, stills garners the highest ratings among all news channels.

Despite the uphill battle, the message Stewart is sending is clear: We should not be defined by our politics or our media.  Perhaps Stewart’s rally will be the impetus for change.  Maybe politicians and the media will reevaluate their place in the national story.  While this may be wishful thinking, one can hope.

“Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together,”  Stewart said in closing.  “And the truth is, there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promiseland… but we do it anyway–together.”

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About Matthew L. Schafer

Matthew L. Schafer graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Studies. He later attended Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication where he earned a Masters of Mass Communication and Georgetown University Law Center where he earned his J.D.
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