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Remembering That Time Jon Stewart Owned Tucker Carlson So Hard His Show Got Canceled

Tucker Carlson smirks in an old CNN clip above a chyron reading "Jon Stewart's 'America'"

Every few years, a clip of Jon Stewart’s 2004 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire resurfaces, and every few years, it feels so good to watch. This was the appearance where Stewart clowned on Tucker Carlson (and co-host Paul Begala) so hard that the network canceled the whole show.

I’m going to guess that the reason for the clip’s most recent renaissance is because Joy Reid casually mentioned the incident in her decadent takedown of Carlson earlier this week.

“Just because the CIA rejected your application, I mean look, things turned out fine for you. You had a great career over here at MSNBC–oh, actually that didn’t work out. Look, you were great on CNN, though, until Jon Stewart kind of humiliated you. But it’s fine, you’re fine. Things are going great for you,” Reid said on her show, The ReidOut, Monday night.

In case you’ve never seen it, or if you have and just want to relive your joy, here’s the 2004 exchange Reid is talking about:

Crossfire had been on CNN since 1982. It presented two pundits—one liberal and one conservative—and had them fight over political and social issues. It was, as Stewart called it, “partisan hackery.”

While there’s obviously no competing with Fox News in terms of the devastating effect this kind of political theatre has had in worsening and exploiting the massive ideological divide between Americans, Crossfire certainly tried its best.

“You’re doing theatre when you should be doing debate,” Stewart told the hosts after mocking Carlson’s then-signature bowtie and before going on to plead with the hosts to stop quipping and actually listen to him. Carlson clearly has no idea how to respond to Stewart’s serious criticisms and he’s reduced to feigning confusion over why the Comedy Central man isn’t doing enough jokes.

Definitely take two minutes to watch the full clip but here’s my favorite bit of the exchange:

Stewart: The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just kneejerk, reactionary talk—

Tucker: Wait, I thought you were gonna be funny!

Stewart: No. No, I’m not gonna be your monkey. (Huge laugh from the audience.) I watch your show every day and it kills me, it’s so painful to watch. Because we need what you do. This is such a great opportunity you have here to actually get politicians off of their marketing and strategy—

Tucker: (Smirking maniacally) Is this really Jon Stewart?

Stewart: Yeah, it’s someone who watches your show and cannot take it anymore, I just can’t.

Three months later, a new president took over at CNN and canceled the show as well as Carlson’s contract with the network. He specifically cited Stewart’s appearance on the show and said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with the accusation that the show was “hurting America.”

If that clip above left you wanting more, here’s the full segment from 2004:

(image: screencap)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.