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Those of you who watch the Jon Stewart Show no doubt have noticed how often he and his research staff manage to hang politicians on the irony of contrary statements they’ve made in the past, by digging up vidoe of their previous ironic transgressions. I call this the Jon Stewart Effect. We often enjoy these clips immensly.

But it concerns me more and more that electronic journalism makes it easier and easier to dig up people’s past comments, and use them to make them look inconsistent or dangerous in the present. I see this going on now regarding Chuck Hagel’s potential nomination for Secretary of Defense. The Jon Stewart Effect is a “perfect” example of where the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. We all make mistakes and say and do things we may regret. And we continue to learn from our life experiences. In Hagel’s case, his previous comments on Israel make sense in current terms, but are being taken out of context by those who choose to oppose him.

So, let’s be careful how we use selective clips of people’s previous remarks, made in another time and context. Such electronic wizardry can indeed become an enemy of the good. Howevere, for political comedy purposes, if the Jon Stewart Effect stays on his show, and out of the national news, I’ll have no complaints.

December 2012

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