Not Exactly A Moment Of Zen

Jon Stewart’s last show of 2010

Jay Newton-Small at Swampland at Time:

In his last show of the year, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took Congress and the media to task for not making the Zadroga bill a priority. Named for James Zadroga, a 911 first responder who died in 2006 of respiratory disease, the bill would create a trust fund to cover the health care costs of surviving police, firemen, emergency medical technicians and clean up crews who toiled for months in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. The bill passed the House but has been stalled in the Senate due to GOP concerns that it would, in essence, create a new — albeit relatively tiny — entitlement.

(Stewart may have taken outrage lessons on the issue from his buddy Rep. Anthony Weiner with whom he’s shared a South Hampton summer sublet.)

In the wake of Stewart’s show, ABC’s Jonathan Karl ran a story on World News and the cable nets seem to have woken up to the bill’s existence. On Sunday, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand announced that a revised version of the bill, which reduces the cost from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion – the measure is offset by closing a corporate tax loop hole – had gained at least some GOP support. Indeed, several prominent Republicans have come out in support of the bill with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace calling it a “national shame” that the legislation has yet to be enacted.

With Senate Democrats upping the pressure for passage of the bill giving health benefits to sickened 9/11 responders, it’s going to get increasingly hard for GOP Senators to maintain their opposition. That’s because even right-leaning commentators and political operatives are growing mighty uncomfortable with the Senate GOP’s stance.

Case in point: This morning Joe Scarborough ripped into GOP opponents of passing the bill, which is called the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. He said Republicans were taking a big risk, and the crucial point Scarborough made is that this should be a national issue, not a New York one

Matt Negrin at Politico:

Paging Jon Stewart: The White House needs your help.

Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday that he hopes the Comedy Central host can persuade enough Republican senators to vote for a 9/11 health bill so it can head to the president’s desk.

“If there’s the ability for that to sort of break through in our political environment, there’s a good chance that he can help do that,” Gibbs said in his briefing. “I think he has put the awareness around this legislation. He’s put that awareness into what you guys cover each day, and I think that’s good. I hope he can convince two Republicans to support taking care of those that took care of so many on that awful day in our history.”

Stewart has dedicated lengthy segments on “The Daily Show” to the legislation that would help the first responders on Sept. 11.

“It seems, at the end of a long year around the holiday season, a pretty awful thing to play politics about,” Gibbs said Tuesday. “That’s a decision that 42 Republican senators are going to have to make.”

Steve Benen:

I’m glad Stewart’s efforts are garnering attention, because it’s really not an exaggeration to say the bill would have no chance without his coverage. Indeed, major media outlets — at least in broadcast media — almost completely ignored the Zadroga bill every step of the way. When a GOP filibuster blocked the most recent attempt at passage, despite 58 votes in support of the proposal, it looked like Republicans had killed the bill.

But then “The Daily Show” ran a bunch of segments on this, noting not only the legislation’s merit and the inanity of Republican talking points against the bill, but also calling out news organizations for blowing off an important story regarding 9/11 heroes who need a hand.

And sure enough, Stewart’s public shaming paid off — news shows that couldn’t be bothered to even mention the bill in passing started talking about it. The visibility took a story that was entirely overlooked by the mainstream and made it a national issue, which in turn prompted Republican senators to begin talking to Democratic sponsors again.

The New York Daily Newsnoted this morning, “Thanks in large part to relentless television advocacy by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show,’ the 9/11 bill has risen up the agenda.”

It’d be an exaggeration to say Stewart was solely responsible. Other voices in media (including, ahem, the one you’re reading now) were reporting on the importance of the bill several weeks ago, and as soon as the tax deal was settled, Republicans who were at least open to the Zadroga bill were willing to start talking again.

Christopher Beam at Slate:

In the never-ending debate about whether Jon Stewart is a comedian with opinions or an activist who happens to make jokes, he’s always argued for the former. When Tucker Carlson accused Stewart of liberal hackery on Crossfire in 2004, Stewart famously played the joker card. “You’re on CNN,” he said. “The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

It’s true—Stewart leans left, but the jokes always come first. At October’s Rally To Restore Sanity, which many observers considered his coming-out party as the anti-Glenn Beck, Stewart was careful not to cross the line into advocacy. He didn’t even tell people to vote. He’s just not “in the game,” he told Rachel Maddow in an interview in November. “I’m in the stands yelling things, criticizing.”

Last week, Stewart stepped onto the field. The change came after Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would provide $7.4 billion in medical benefits to firefighters, police officers, and health workers who got sick from working at Ground Zero on and after 9/11. Stewart didn’t just mock the 42 Republicans who refused to consider the bill until the Bush tax cuts were extended. He ripped them apart. “I can’t wait for them to take to the floor to talk about why their party hates first responders,” he said. He shredded Sen. Mike Enzi’s argument that the bill would lead to waste, fraud, and abuse by pointing to Enzi’s support for corruption-riddled spending in Iraq. Last week, he did a follow-up segment, “Worst Responders,” in which he called the refusal to pass the 9/11 bill “an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11.” The bill would even be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes. “It’s a win-win-win-win-just [bleep] do it!” he yelled. He also blasted the media for failing to cover the story, noting that the only cable news network to devote a full segment to the issue was Al Jazeera. He then interviewed four first responders—a fireman, a police officer, a Department of Transportation worker, and an engineer—who suffered illnesses as a result of their work at Ground Zero. The segment had funny moments. But the jokes didn’t come first.

[…]

Stewart would probably argue that pushing for 9/11 workers comp—9/11 workers comp, for Chrissake!—isn’t taking a political stance. It’s taking a stance for decency, heroism, and the American people. Indeed, he called it “the Least-We-Can-Do-No-Brainer Act of 2010.” But stripped of the funny, that sounds a lot like what a politician would say. So did Stewart’s cheap shot about Mitch McConnell crying over the departure of his friend Sen. Judd Gregg—but not, Stewart seemed to suggest, about 9/11. Republicans may have had a flimsy case for blocking the bill, and Stewart rightly mocked the GOP for failing to help 9/11 workers after milking the tragedy all these years, but by shaming them in the name of 9/11 workers, he was engaging in demagoguery himself. It may have been for a good cause, but it was political demagoguery all the same.

Atrios:

If Jon Stewart Can Do It

Then maybe a charismatic fairly popular tall skinny guy with a fancy podium and the ability to get people to point TV cameras at him almost any moment can figure out how to do it.

Glenn Thrush at Politico:

New York Democrats hoping for quick action on a bill to give health care compensation to ground zero workers are about to run into Tom Coburn.

The Oklahoma Republican senator and physician — known in the Senate as “Dr. No” for his penchant for blocking bills — told POLITICO on Monday night that he wouldn’t allow the bill to move quickly, saying he has problems with parts of the bill and the process Democrats are employing.

Another Republican, Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, said he had concerns with the measure and that it should instead move through the committee process.

“I’m not trying to fight it; I’m trying to get it right,” Enzi said. “There are 30 things that ought to be changed real quick in committee but very difficult on the floor. To finish a bill at this point of time, we’re not going to be able to amend it.”

Mark Joyella at Mediaite:

It’s a huge victory at the very last minute–the lame duck Congress delivering the 9/11 First Responders bill–and a moment in history.On Fox News, Shepard Smith, who railed against the Republicans who blocked the bill in the face of 9/11 heroes, asking “how do they sleep” at night, was on set to report the passage this afternoon.

At times visibly teary-eyed, Smith called it a “compromise of utmost importance for those who put their lives on the line.”

Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni described how the deal got done:

“Everybody saw the writing on the wall, the time was running out, Republicans might get a black eye for not supporting the 9/11 responders if they blocked the bill, and Democrats wouldn’t have a chance to get quite as good a deal if they waited for the next Congress.”

Smith’s coverage of the 9/11 First Responders bill even earned him praise from the most unlikely of quarters–at MSNBC, where Rachel Maddow gave due props for Smith creating a “hullabaloo” about the bill: “All hail Shep Smith at Fox News,” she declared. “And I’m not kidding.”

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