And it makes him weak.
He recently interviewed David Barton, the professional liar and quote fabricator, and he was more interested in distancing himself from those fanatical atheists than he was in addressing the bullshit Barton was spreading. Barton claimed that there was some atheist group on the west coast that put up a billboard claiming Jefferson was an atheist; Stewart let it slide by. Actually, there was an erroneous billboard put up by Backyard Skeptics which used a false quote by Jefferson — “I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology” — and it was atheists who went out of their way to point out the error, and the group apologized. Barton is notorious for making up quotes about the American founding fathers. Now he’s making up quotes about atheists.
I’m sure you can find a few fringe atheists who claim Jefferson is an atheist, but anyone who knows the slightest bit of American history knows he was a deist who rejected the supernatural elements of Christianity, but still held personal reverence for the philosopher Jesus. He was the kind of guy fundamentalist frauds like Barton would call not a true Christian, except when it serves their purposes to pretend we were founded as a Christian nation.
Barton also made up this anecdote I hear all the time about a public school teacher throttling a student who said a personal prayer at lunch. That is not illegal. Any teacher who did such a thing is exceeding their brief. Atheists oppose teacher-led prayer — authorities in a public, secular institution cannot use their influence to impose sectarian religion on their charges.
Stewart allowed Barton to control the whole interview; he made a few feeble thrusts, at which time Barton would immediately say “I agree!”, and then Stewart would fall over flabbily and not carry the argument home. He didn’t address anything in the book Barton was flogging at all; has he no researchers who could find specific claims made in the book, that Stewart could use to pin Barton down? Why was he allowing Barton to just dribble out random anecdotes?
It was a terrible interview, insipid and pandering, in which Stewart accepted everything Barton said as reasonable and factual, and didn’t do anything but give Barton a platform to lie. Barton is a professional revisionist, a charlatan who pretends to be a historian. Stewart was a marshmallow.
You can watch the whole disgraceful thing, if you really want to. I was disappointed and unimpressed. Stewart is an incredibly uneven interviewer; sometimes he can be sharp, but other times, I feel like his dedication to not pissing off the slack and careless American middle (by, for instance, defending anything an atheist says) makes him a pushover for the slick fundamentalist propagandists.
There are also parts 2 and 3 of the interview, which were not broadcast. Stewart gets a little better in them, but not much…and definitely not enough to salvage his reputation as a pushover interviewer. He can get scathing with people in the media who poison his profession, such as Rupert Murdoch or Tucker Carlson, but put some dishonest slug who’s poisoning the whole culture, and he rolls over and shows his belly to be tickled.
One of the stories Barton likes to trundle out is the tale of the St Louis schoolboy who was harshly punished for saying a prayer at lunch. It’s been tracked down and documented. IT’S A BIG FAT OL’ LIE.