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CNN SPOTLIGHT

Jon Stewart

Aired February 15, 2015 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Welcome to "The Daily Show." My name is Jon Stewart.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): He's perhaps America's most trusted news man.

STEWART: No, wait. That's an overstatement.

BALDWIN: A comic genius.

STEWART: My god, did I say that out loud?

BALDWIN: Who pushed political satire into a new stratosphere.

STEWART: Dodging taxes!

BALDWIN: He cut his teeth on the comedy circuit.

STEWART: Four minutes of material and I think I got through two and a half before someone in the audience called me an (inaudible). Isn't that my whole point?

BALDWIN: But found his voice on late-night TV.

STEWART: My bar mitzvah.

BALDWIN: Known for his biting sarcasm.

STEWART: Why, Brye?

BALDWIN: He skewered politicians and mocked the media.

STEWART: The media had applied this level of scrutiny --

BALDWIN: Now a surprise announcement.

STEWART: I'm not going to be here and try and sum up what this place has meant to me over the years.

BALDWIN: Leaves no one laughing.

STEWART: I'm going to miss coming here every day.

BALDWIN: Tonight, king of the fake news.

STEWART: I'm being completely serious right now. My name is Jon Stewart!

BALDWIN: Comedy legend.

STEWART: You would agree with that, right?

BALDWIN: Jon Stewart.

STEWART: Do you agree?

BALDWIN: "The Daily Show," February 10th.

STEWART: This show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host and neither do you.

BALDWIN: A crushing blow.

(on camera): Out of the blue, he tells everyone he's retiring.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It does seem like Jon Stewart is just tired, and I think I would be, too. He's been doing it for more than 15 years and doing it at such a high level.

STEWART: Seventeen years is the longest I have ever in my life held a job by 16 years and five months.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Even his delivery of bad news got a laugh.

STEWART: I'm going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard from multiple sources, are lovely people.

There's the New Jersey skyline people talk so much about. God, it's beautiful.

BALDWIN: This is where it all started for Jonathan Stewart Liebowitz.

STEWART: That's where my dad used to work when we first moved here.

BALDWIN: CNN spent the day with the comedian in his hometown before he became a household name.

STEWART: That's all of the memories.

BALDWIN: He grew up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, a well-to-do neighborhood near Princeton.

STEWART: My mother doesn't know we don't live at home anymore. We stuffed the pillows and stuck them in our beds. So she just thinks my brother and I are really tired.

BALDWIN: Mom was a teacher, dad, a physicist, but Jon's role model was a comedian. STEWART: When you're a neurotic Jewish kid and you read a book by Woody Allen and you think I thought I was messed up! Look at this guy. This is hilarious. He actually said what I was thinking out loud!

BALDWIN: Jon struggled with anti-Semitism in his hometown.

LISA ROGAK, AUTHOR, "ANGRY OPTIMIST: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JON STEWART": Lawrenceville and Princeton are not known as hotbeds of Jewish culture and life.

BALDWIN: Lisa Rogak is the author of "Angry Optimist."

ROGAK: He was short and he was Jewish in a community that made him for an easy target. Humor was a way of coping mechanism for him.

STEWART: That was a way of not having my ass kicked every day.

BALDWIN: Jon's world crumbled when at 9 years old his parents divorced and his father left home.

STEWART: The me decade and all of that sort of thing were just starting to happen with that kind of mid-life crisis, got to be me, going to get a medallion and sports car and get the hell out of dodge.

It was harrowing in the sense that it was your own personal world and no more harrowing than what a lot of people had to go through.

BALDWIN: Jon focused on what he was good at, cracking people up.

STEWART: You guys could have changed the tiles.

BALDWIN: He was voted best sense of humor at Lawrenceville High.

STEWART: This was where you were allowed to smoke.

BALDWIN: And he excelled in sports. He played soccer in high school and made the team at the college of William and Mary in Virginia. Jon graduated with a degree in psychology, but had little ambition.

STEWART: How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.

BALDWIN: He went back to New Jersey, took odd jobs and tended bar at the iconic Rock Club City Gardens.

STEWART: It was all Heineken. It was 90 cent draft night and they wanted Heineken draft.

BALDWIN: In 1986 at the age of 24, Stewart left home to give New York City and comedy a whirl. He got his first taste of stand-up at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village.

ROGAK: He bombed and most people would have just said I'm never doing this again. It's too humiliating, but he kept going back. STEWART: It's the lowest form of show business. There's, you know, I think, stripping, the guy with the organ and the monkey, stand-up.

STEWART: Persistence paid off. He scored a nightly 2:00 a.m. gig at the Comedy Cellar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's always about the distinctive voice.

BALDWIN: Caroline Hirsch is the longtime owner of Caroline's on Broadway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, it takes years of experience and Jon had that certain something.

BALDWIN: Stewart landed his first TV job as a writer for Hirsch's A & E show Caroline's Comedy Hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is my good friend, Jon Stewart.

BALDWIN: And finally caught fire on the comedy circuit.

STEWART: It took me five or six years to get good enough to do 5 minutes of stand up on Letterman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is your host, he makes his own gravy, Jon Stewart!

BALDWIN: Then in 1993 --

STEWART: We have a great show.

BALDWIN: A big break, his own talk show on MTV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe you actually have your own show.

STEWART: Wait a minute! You are boldly going where no man has ever gone before, believe me.

BALDWIN: It was a ratings hit that only lasted a year.

STEWART: A condor got loose in the audience and nearly killed a man. That was our show. Welcome back to the Late -Late Show.

BALDWIN: He guest hosted the Late-Late Show in the mid-90s.

ROGAK: He's always come in in second place for a variety of shows where the main host was moving on and he never won the crown.

BALDWIN: Until he filled in on "The Daily Show." Here's Stewart as a guest of Craig Killborn's right before he took over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The crew got together and we got you a gift.

STEWART: Stop it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is for you. It's a phone book. STEWART: I know what this is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I want to see if it fits.

STEWART: I know. So, I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What changes can we expect?

STEWART: Changes? By God, this is "The Daily Show," man? Why don't I draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa, for goodness sakes!

BALDWIN: Joking aside, he would make big changes.

STEWART: For our continued comprehensive coverage of the final blow.

You're out of order. He's out of order. This whole trial is sexy! Welcome, welcome to "The Daily Show."

BALDWIN: In January, 1999 Stewart took the helm and never looked back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this mind blowing? How does it work? You don't know.

STEWART: It's my first day, I don't know. I could be --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been on the daily show more than you have.

BALDWIN: Coming up, he's brilliant, brash, and going for the jugular.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART: Excuse me. I'm just going to do a delayed spit take, if you will.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, winner of this year's distinguished you are loved, get well soon award.

BALDWIN: For the first few months at the desk, Jon Stewart was on cruise control anchoring an old-school late-night talk show, but by the end of 1999 his inner maverick kicked into gear.

STEWART: While many officials oppose the idea saying the caravan of trailer homes to Washington can paralyze interstate traffic.

BALDWIN: And "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" became his very own.

ROGAK: He got in there and shook things up, basically. Kilborn had focused a lot on frat boy humor and pranks and insulting people and when Stewart arrived on the scene he said we're going to clean house. He wanted to essentially create the essence of a fake news show.

STEWART: "The Daily Show's" in-house political puppeteer was asked to capture the essence of the debate.

BALDWIN: Out with the old, he flips the script and overhauls the show, its new focus, taking on politics and politicians, news and the news media and booking a mix of guests from authors to celebrities.

STEWART: Last night the race for next year's presidential election semi-officially began, giving us our first chance to show off our award-winning "Indecision 2000" graphic.

BALDWIN: As part of the new lineup, "Indecision 2000."

STELTER: Stewart almost single-handedly figured how to cover elections through humor and encouraged political participation.

BALDWIN: His coverage of the November 2000 election and its aftermath tipped the scales a crowning moment for the king of fake news.

STEWART: All we can really tell you the electoral count stays the same. Bush has 20 states and gore has taken, bush has swept the south, Alabama, Mississippi, that's m-I-s-I-p-I-

We called it for Bush.

LARRY: We called it for Bush and then left.

STEWART: You guys could have done the same thing. We called it for Bush and had delicious quesadillas and came back the next day and Bush was president at Comedy Central.

BALDWIN: That same year, he marries Tracy McShane after proposing with his own creative flair.

ROGAK: One of his buddies was Will Schwartz who is puzzle editor at the "New York Times" and Jon decided a neat way to propose to Tracy was to have will devise a crossword puzzle and the answer was will you marry me?

BALDWIN: The couple now has two kids and lead a private life away from the limelight, but on air Stewart was all business taking on the country's leaders with hilarious and outrageous rants.

STEWART: Will you pull a bait and switch, sir, and enslave the white race? Is that your plan?

Two weeks into your term and we catch you eating pizza?

BALDWIN: And even taking on newsmakers.

STEWART: If Fox was high MSNBC must be MSNB-sad.

And those micro-droplets can infect me, they can land on surfaces and I can touch them and they can infect me. No!

STELTER: I think Jon Stewart is a check and balance. He's a check and balance on politician, on the courts on Congress and especially on the president, but he's also a check and balance on the media on us, in the press.

BALDWIN: His no filter, in your face approach brought an untapped audience to news.

(on camera): He has an appeal to people 35 and younger, how does Jon Stewart pull it off?

STELTER: I think Stewart uses comedy in order to get people into the stadium and he keeps them there and shares real news with them, so it's not entirely fake news, right? It's a satirical look at the craziness in our world.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Stewart showed the world a sensitive side, as well.

STEWART: Good evening, and welcome to "The Daily Show."

STEWART: September 11, 2001, his jokes came to a screeching halt.

STEWART: I see it as a privilege.

BALDWIN: Days later, viewers saw a much different side of Jon Stewart.

STEWART: I wanted to tell you why I grieve. The view from my apartment -- was the World Trade Center and now it's gone, but you know what the view is now, the Statue of Liberty. You can't beat that.

ROGAK: I think people regarded him in a different light after that monologue. It opened people's eyes to the fact that, he's more than just a guy who can crack a good joke.

BALDWIN: After 9/11 came the war on Iraq, a frequent target of Stewart's.

STEWART: The militants obviously have trucks and guns, mostly American trucks and guns.

ROGAK: His M.O. is to pull back the curtain on wizards, and he viewed George W. Bush as a wizard who could do anything and that kind of stuff drives Stewart crazy.

BALDWIN: The seriously funny fake journalist was on fire, mocking news and making news. In 2003 U.S. Senator John Edwards made a major announcement on Stewart's show.

SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: I am on your show to announce that I am a candidate for president of the United States.

STEWART: And I guess I should probably tell you now, we're a fake show. So I want you to know that this may not count.

BALDWIN: But politicians knew how much showing up at "The Daily Show" did count, on air and online. STELTER: "The Daily Show" was one of the first shows to really embrace the internet and to put full episodes online and let people watch them for free and that was at a time when almost no other network was doing so, but it made "The Daily Show" even bigger and even stronger and it made the show more viral.

BALDWIN: Up next, the media watchdog in beast mode.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART: Welcome to a very special live edition of "The Daily Show."

BALDWIN: During election 2000, Jon Stewart became a household name, taking shots at politicians.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I was not elected to serve one party.

STEWART: You were not elected.

BALDWIN: In 2004, his target was often the political media.

STEWART: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the "Cross Fire" with Jon Stewart.

BALDWIN: And a CNN show called "CROSSFIRE."

STEWART: Why do you argue, the two of you? It's not so much that it's bad as it's hurting America. So I wanted to come here today and say --

No, just stop, stop, stop hurting America.

BALDWIN: It wasn't the usual Stewart satire.

STEWART: Your partisan -- what do you call it -- hacks.

STELTER: I remember the time as a blogger, I immediately started writing about it, putting up stories about it because it felt like a real moment. You don't go into somebody else's house and turn them to burn the house down. It just doesn't happen, but that's what Jon Stewart did.

BALDWIN: The young underdog who once had to protect himself from bullies and hecklers had morphed into a scathing media critic. His most biting commentary usually reserved for Fox.

STEWART: But according to Fox, their weekday news programming -- and this is according to Fox -- runs from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The three hours that you spend in the morning with "Fox & Friends," not news! Your 4:00 to 5:00 post-tea and crumpets Neil Cavuto break, not news! STELTER: I think Jon Stewart looks at Fox News and sees so much that is wrong with the world, or at least what is wrong with the media world.

BALDWIN: That was certainly clear at something called rumble in the air-conditioned auditorium, Jon Stewart versus Bill O'Reilly.

STEWART: I have come here tonight to plead to the mayor of (inaudible) mountain. Talk to your people.

The United States has been hit with an outbreak --

BALDWIN: But Stewart also has plenty to say about those of us not on Fox.

(on camera): The contagion factor in measles is like off the chain.

(voice-over): Yes, that's me.

STEWART: This just in. Measles is off the chain contagious. It likes big lungs that it cannot lie!

BALDWIN (on camera): and yes, it was funny, I laughed. But it really did make me think about the words I choose to use on CNN.

STELTER: Jon Stewart can't exist without cable news, and cable news is better off existing with Jon Stewart. You know, I think maybe we've made each other better.

BALDWIN: You're welcome, Jon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You love to take shots at Fox News.

STEWART: Yes, I do.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Jon Stewart does have his critics, many who consider him a liberal activist like Fox's Chris Wallace who took issue when Stewart compared a Sarah Palin video to a commercial for a herpes drug.

STEWART: You know what's cool, man? The way they have reporters finishing each other's sentences. Where have I seen that technique before?

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: So you're saying that by comparing the technique she used in a video -- you were not making a political comment.

STEWART: You really think that's a political comment.

WALLACE: Yes.

STEWART: You're insane.

STELTER: A lot of conservatives say Stewart is hopelessly biased. I don't think that's entirely true, but it's pretty clear where he stands.

BALDWIN: He stands on the left with the people who believe U.S. society is still deeply racist.

STEWART: Wanda Sykes is going to be starting up her own late-night talk show. Wait, that's got to be a misprint. She's not a white man, wait.

BALDWIN: So it may surprise you that another criticism of Stewart has been the lack of diversity, especially women, on his staff.

ROGAK: That has come up again and again both in the writing staff and the behind-the-scenes staff and the correspondents. As a result, Stewart has gone on to bring more women on board.

BALDWIN: Eventually he began taking his message out of the studio and onto the streets.

STEWART: You guys having a nice time so far?

BALDWIN: The rally to restore sanity.

STEWART: This is for the people that are tired of their reflection in the media as being a divided country. This is for those people.

BALDWIN: In 2013, Stewart took another much larger step outside his show's studio, writing and director "Rosewater," a film about an Iranian "Newsweek" reporter arrested four days after appearing in a "Daily Show" skit about a fake American spy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was told he'd go by the code name pistachio, and I would recognize him by --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't see you there.

BALDWIN: He was tortured and spent 107 days in prison.

MAZIAR BAHARI: They told me that I was a spy. And in the absence of any evidence because I was not a spy, they brought ridiculous charges.

BALDWIN: In November, Stewart spoke about the film with my colleague, Christiane Amanpour.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: You've now done your first movie.

STEWART: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Is this what everybody wants to know a transition out of being "The Daily Show" host?

STEWART: Let me ask you, what have you heard?

AMANPOUR: That's what I've heard.

STEWART: Now you have to tell me what's going to happen in my life.

AMANPOUR: All right.

STEWART: I'm very excited about this.

AMANPOUR: I think you're going to be a film director.

STEWART: All right.

AMANPOUR: Are you?

STEWART: I view it all as a process. In my mind, this is all chicken. I'm just making chicken. Sometimes I'm making cutlet, sometimes I make a nice teriyaki.

BALDWIN: On February 10th, we learned he's leaving.

STEWART: I don't have any specific plans. I got a lot of ideas. I've got a lot of things in my head.

STELTER: I think he's been thinking about this for years. Sometimes he seemed downright angry and I wonder if he's just fed up with it all.

STEWART: This show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you. I love the people here. They're the best. They are creative and collaborative and kind. I love them and respect them so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love you, Jon!

BALDWIN: An emotional beginning of the end. Don't worry, he'll still be around in one way or another.

STELTER: I think he'll have some role on TV in the future, maybe a weekly series, maybe documentaries.

STEWART: I thank you for watching it, for hate watching it, whatever reason you were tuning in for. I thank you.

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