Jon Stewart Haunts Tucker Carlson's Restless, Bitter Nights

Poor Tucker Carlson. His career was sidelined by Jon Stewart in a cruel sneak attack five years ago, and he's never gotten over it. Now he's trying to start a beef with his former tormentor.

In the Daily Beast, Carlson raises a hoary complaint: That Stewart is a critical darling who gets away with murder because the self-loathing media loves him too much to criticize him. Stewart's much-heralded interrogation of Jim Cramer, Carlson says, was "incoherent"—Stewart went after Cramer's manipulative short-selling shenanigans, and then tried to link them to credit default swaps, which are totally different things! And when Stewart interviewed John Kerry before the 2004 election, he totally gave him a pass, "squandering" the opportunity.

But Carlson's real objection to Stewart is that he doesn't play by the gentleman's rules of cable news theatrics, and actually takes the things he says seriously enough to repeat them when cameras aren't trained on him. After Stewart's 2004 Crossfire appearance, when he asked Carlson and his co-host Paul Begala to "stop hurting America," Carlson writes, Stewart had the temerity to stay after the show was over to try—earnestly!—to continue the argument:

Unlike most guests after an uncomfortable show, Stewart didn't flee once it was over, but lingered backstage to press his point. With the cameras off, he dropped the sarcasm and the nastiness, but not the intensity. I can still picture him standing outside the makeup room, gesticulating as the rest of us tried to figure out what he was talking about. It was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. Finally I had to leave to make a dinner. Stewart shook my hand with what seemed like friendly sincerity and continued to lecture our staff. An hour later, one of my producers called me, sounding desperate. Stewart was still there, and still talking.

How weird, indeed! It was almost as though he actually meant the things he said, and was interested in what other people had to say in response. This is the pitfall of people who get paid to think and say things for a living: Thinking and talking and arguing gets reduced to punch-the-clock labor, and people who take it seriously or do it for free or absent an audience are considered unsophisticated amateurs. Come on, leave me alone, Stewart, I gotta go to dinner! This attitude is known as hackery.

And it is the business end of Stewart's critique. For Carlson to attack Stewart because he is insufficiently glib is pitiful and sad and explains everything about why Carlson lost that argument so devastatingly.

The upside is that Carlson, who is a talented writer and reporter, is back at his keyboard, where he can occasionally write true things like this sentence: "The relationship between Stewart and the media is a marriage of the self-loathing and the self-loving: He insists their real news is fake, they insist his fake news is real."