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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 16, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 70




global perspective On serious issues, comics lead the way

By Tom Roberts, NCR editor

The youngest of our four children is moving on to college this year. I've known the full range of parent worries about kids, from tots to teens and beyond.

But I've realized a new and somewhat unusual one during the past year. I've been worried that our kids have an underdeveloped sense of skepticism.

In the pantheon of worries that begin with drugs and sex and move on down the list of things that might infect a kid's life, healthy skepticism may be at the bottom of most lists.

But don't sell it short. I think it is more essential than ever for survival.

And I think this generation's comics may be helping our kids develop that quality.

Last week I got into my car after my son had used it and the radio was turned to one of his stations. I was about to tune out the banter of the disc jockeys, male and female, to return to the familiar public radio spot, when I heard the two voices joking about "Rummy."

They were reading some of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent comments about the rationale for the war in Iraq. Then they went back and read some of Rumsfeld's comments months ago about the rationale for the war in Iraq. The comments, of course, were contradictory, and the DJs had a good chuckle.

I was surprised. Such comments would have been unthinkable just months ago, they would have raised a hue and cry through the community. The radio personalities would have been accused of being unpatriotic, of not supporting our troops, of everything short of sedition and treason.

What a difference a few months have made.

Remember when comedian Bill Maher, then host of the show "Politically Incorrect," made some irreverent remarks about U.S. military pursuits after 9/11 and found himself not only the object of widespread scorn but also out of a show?

He's back, with a new show on HBO that debuts July 25. But the purpose of this is not to promote Maher, though he's got some funny bits in the opening page to his website. ("The French stood up to the Bush administration which is more that I can say for the Democrats The Bushies are masters of the three branches of government: the photo op, the marketing and the focus group.")

Maher, on the same page, says he was "the first guy to be Dixie-Chicked."

Comedians like Maher and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart bring many questions, missing from much of mainstream news coverage, to the national conversation.

Stewart was a recent guest on the PBS show NOW With Bill Moyers, who in a tongue-in-cheek introduction called the comedian "a man many consider to be the preeminent political analyst of our time, the distinguished commentator and anchorman."

He described The Daily Show as "A compendium of news, interviews and features, held up to a fractured mirror to reveal a greater truth. The Daily Show is many things, but most important, and simply, it is very smart and very funny."

Sample an exchange from the interview:

MOYERS: I do not know whether you are practicing an old form of parody and satire.

STEWART: Uh-huh.

MOYERS: Or a new form of journalism.

STEWART: Well then that either speaks to the sad state of comedy or the sad state of news. I can't figure out which one. I think, honestly, we're practicing a new form of desperation. Where we just are so inundated with mixed messages from the media and from politicians that we're just trying to sort it out for ourselves.

MOYERS: What do

STEWART: The show's a selfish pursuit.

MOYERS: What do you see that we journalists don't see?

STEWART: I don't think... I think we see exactly what you do see. And but for some reason, don't analyze it in that manner or put it on the air in that manner. I can't tell you how many times we'll run into a journalist and go, "Boy that'sI wish we could be saying that. That's exactly the way we see it and that's exactly the way we'd like to be saying that." And I always think, "Well, why don't you?"

MOYERS: But when I report the news on this broadcast, people say I'm making it up. When you make it up, they say you're telling the truth.

STEWART: Yes. Exactly. It's funny. I was talking to Jayson Blair about this.

My son often watches The Daily Show. For him, the show has raised the serious questions in a format that's permissible in his world - and that is a rare commodity. For what has become apparent is the degree to which our country's military pursuits have been taken into the classroom, for instance, without question or discussion. Our high schools have student ROTC groups whose color guards are lustily cheered at sports and other gatherings. And the schools are now required to hand over lists of students to military recruiters as part of the Leave No Child Behind legislation.

If our schools, almost imperceptibly but quite certainly, have been co-opted to that degree, I cheer the comics. They're among the few pointing out the emperor's got no clothes.

Tom Roberts e-mail address is

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