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The Meaning of a Daily Show Heckler

PUBLISHED: November 2, 2009

The Daily ShowThe Daily Show with Jon Stewart had its first heckler last week. After eleven years of potentially objectionable guests like Henry Kissinger, Pervez Musharraf, Trent Lott, Nancy Pelosi, George Tenet, Ralph Nader, and Jim Cramer, the first to be heckled was Palestinian peace activist Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. One might make any number of conclusions from this incident. And bloggers certainly have been using the incident as fodder.

A Zionist blogger called Israel Matzav objected to the very presence of the guests:

Jon Stewart [had] a couple of disgraceful guests on his show on Wednesday night for a night of Israel bashing. No, there’s no pro-Israel counterpoint (perhaps he will try to convince us that ISM activist Baltzer – who is Jewish – is meant to provide balance). And I thought Stewart’s was a comedy show. What if no one watched him?

Talking Points Memo blogger and former Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum M.J. Rosenberg saw the incident as the beginning of a change in how the American news media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Because Jon Stewart is so utterly at home as an American and as a Jew, he can say what he thinks about the Middle East. And that seems to be that diplomacy is better than killing people and that no lobby should inhibit debate on an issue that affects all Americans. Jon Stewart, all by himself, has created a sea change in the mass media’s approach to the Middle East. Once others in the business see that Stewart says what he thinks – and not only survives but thrives – others will do it too.

Mondoweiss blogger Adam Horowitz was there in person to “watch the struggle for Palestinian equal rights go prime time.” In his account he argues that the segment has profound implications for the future of the conflict itself:

Palestinian equal rights was placed directly next to health care and the economy on The Daily Show’s progressive agenda and the audience was totally along for the ride. I could hardly believe my eyes, and yet it made perfect sense at the same time. Who can argue that it is necessary to deny people water? Who can argue against equal rights? The answer is increasingly no one, and if The Daily Show’s audience is any indication, the next generation will be leading this fight in a much different direction.

The heckling of a peace activist just shows how little that Americans are used to hearing from the Palestinian perspective. That Barghouti’s message would be objectionable enough to elicit such a response speaks less to the message than it does to the audience. Barghouti represents a segment of the Palestinian population that Israelis and American Zionists should be working to cultivate, if they truly want peace. If they don’t want peace, if they want to prolong the cycle of violence further in order to maintain perpetual control over the Palestinian territory and people, well then maybe it makes sense to try to sideline such voices.


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