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McCain Does The Daily Show

1:21 PM, May 8, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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John McCain did the Daily Show last night, and acquitted himself quite well. While performing decently in such venues has become an important part of our distended presidential selection process, it's not the be-all-and-end-all. If it were, we could just be done with everything and appoint Mike Huckabee Supreme Leader for Life.

Over at Hot Air, Allah noted that Stewart went easy on McCain and commented, "To my continued surprise, Perino, Tony Snow, and now even the GOP nominee were treated to 10 minutes of schmoozing with only one or two glancing blows mixed in." There's a simple reason for this phenomenon, and it ties in with the whole Democrats-appearing-on Fox controversy of last week.

If you're running a radio or TV show and invite a guest on, you have to be civil or that guest and like-minded guests will never return to your show. So even if being a courteous host isn't in your nature, you still bend over backwards to be nice when someone with differing views winds up on your set.

I can only think of one incident where a host really went after someone he differed with. That was when my friend and mentor, radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt (who I regularly guest-host for), interviewed Tom Tancredo, and suggested that the McCain/Kennedy immigration bill should in fact be known as McCain/Kennedy/Tancredo because Tancredo's ruinous and inflexible actions had brought McCain/Kennedy into being. Tancredo didn't much care for that suggestion, and the conversation got a bit heated. Some time after the interview, Tancredo vowed to avoid the Hewitt Show for the rest of the campaign. In case you're wondering, the Hewitt Show survived in spite of a dire case of Tancredo deprivation.

Still, the lesson to be learned from a broadcasting perspective is that if you don't bend over backwards to be nice to people you oppose, it will be one and done - they won't come back for a second appearance if they deem the first one unsatisfactory. You may have noticed that when Bill O'Reilly has a major public personality as a guest with whom he has serious philosophical disagreements, he turns into a big pussycat whether the celeb in question is Ben Affleck, Rosie O'Donnell or Hillary Clinton. Other big named potential guests (even one that rhymes with Shmobama) could look at the experience of such predecessors and conclude that they would get a fair shot in the No Spin Zone.

That's what made the controversy over the Democrats appearing on Fox News so idiotic. Brit Hume may or may not be a conservative, but the relevant fact is that he's a fair newsman. I'm quite certain that Hume has never done anything that triggered outrage from the left like George Stephanopoulos's conduct of the last Clinton/Obama debate did. Chris Wallace also plays it straight, and a Howard Dean-type knows that he can appear on Fox News Sunday and get a fair shot.

To get back to where we started, John Stewart obviously enjoys chatting with relevant newsmakers. Personally, I think it enriches his show (although I think the Colbert Report remains much funnier). If Stewart started giving his conservative guests rough treatment or sought to embarrass them, they would stop appearing.

Again, McCain did well last night. He should go back as often as Stewart will have him.