For Jon Stewart, 9/11 ‘commemoration’ more about 9/13


NEW YORK (JTA) — While perusing my Facebook wall this summer, I got word that a bunch of tickets to a taping of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” was available for the taking. Fingers be nimble, I snapped them up.

It wasn’t just any taping but the one for Sept. 12, the post-apocalyptic “day after yesterday.”

The date, the guest and Stewart’s poignant monologue after 9/11 would make this show one to remember, I figured.

Stewart had opened his first show after the attacks with a monologue that offered a heartfelt lamentation while lauding Americans for their resolve in the face of “unendurable pain.” Stewart never ceased to be an advocate for the 9/11 responders, tirelessly promoting a law to compensate those affected by the acrid smoke at Ground Zero that eventually won approval by Congress in 2010.

The guest was to be Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces and a man uniquely qualified to reflect on the two wars that constituted America’s response to the 9/11 attacks.

So certain was I about the stars being aligned for a memorable show that I sweet-talked our editor in chief into giving three colleagues half a day off to witness the historic program — and to wait in line for an hour-and-a-half.

During the Q&A in the studio before the show, I asked Stewart, “Are you going to give another post-9/11 –?”

“Won’t you people ever be satisfied?” he interjected, sparking a round of laughter. “It’s a free show!”

For me, looking for a voice to deliver a closing cathartic moment after a weekend of memorializing 9/11, the occasion bore the suspense of an at-bat in the bottom of the ninth.

But Stewart failed to connect.

All references to 9/11 were relegated to the second segment, the pre-taped filler between the opening segment (about President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act) and the segment with Mullen.

Stewart introduced the bit by proposing, tongue in cheek, an alternative anniversary, Sept. 13 — the day in 2001 when the late evangelical leader Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that the American Civil Liberties Union, gays and other secular groups bore some responsibility for the terrorist attacks.

The ensuing montage invited audiences to lament 9/13 as the day that any semblance of national fortitude in the face of fear had been a short-lived dream. Since then, the montage noted, everyone from winemakers touting a “9/11 memorial Merlot” to gold coin producers selling precious metals they claim were salvaged from the vaults beneath the World Trade Center have tried to benefit commercially from our collective narrative tragedy. Perhaps Stewart’s reticence to address 9/11 head-on was an effort to steer clear of capitalizing on 9/11 in any way.

While I watched Stewart’s “9/13 montage,” the implication that 10 years’ worth of TV tributes and 9/11 footage somehow was hackneyed didn’t resonate. Can such a significant event have an expiration date?

Later that night, I learned from a JTA news brief that for the first time since its founding, the Rabin Center in Israel for the first time in 16 years would not commemorate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination with its annual rally in Tel Aviv.

The moment that my high school’s stand-in for the town crier announced the collapse of the World Trade Center, I was jittering my way through a C+ on an American history and literature exam.

Ten years later I’m still a mediocre student of history, but willing to surmise the following: There always comes a time when a cataclysm becomes a distant memory.

But for those who were caught in the moment, that time always seems to arrive too early.

(Adam Soclof writes for the JTA Archive Blog. “Like” the JTA Archive on Facebook and follow @JTAarchive on Twitter.)

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