Jon Stewart Returned To 'The Daily Show' To Bring Attention To A Cause He Deeply Cares About
On Monday night, fans of The Daily Show got a treat they probably didn't anticipate — not so soon, at the very least. That's because iconic former host Jon Stewart returned to The Daily Show to talk about his advocacy for 9/11 first responders and the Zadroga Act. It was a slightly strange sight, seeing current host Trevor Noah in a sharp suit, seated across from a decidedly dressed-down, bearded Stewart, looking far scrappier than he ever did as the show's host. And for some people, it might have been a refreshing sight — after all, The Daily Show's ratings have been flagging badly since Noah took over.
For anyone who's unaware, the Zadroga Act (the full name is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act) is a bill passed in late 2010, and signed into law in early 2011. It established a health care program to help care for 9/11 first responders suffering from a slew of ailments related to their work at Ground Zero, including various forms of lung disease and cancer. It expired in 2015, however, and the reauthorization bill remains stuck in the ever-intractable Republican-led Congress.
Stewart was an outspoken advocate for the bill's initial passage back in 2010 — in particular, he devoted an entire episode of his show to interviewing four affected first responders.
And on Monday night, Stewart was back at it again. The appearance spanned two segments across a commercial break, and featured Stewart discussing the Zadroga Act with Noah, then video of Stewart descending on the U.S. Capitol to attempt to shame members of Congress into supporting the bill's reauthorization. Stewart admitted that he no longer had a show, and as such, "Nobody gives a shit." Luckily, however, Noah was willing to play host to what was clearly a passion cause on Stewart's part. Here's how he described the situation:
Back in 2010, after far more lobbying than what should've been necessary, Congress passed what was called the Zadroga Act. Funded health care for 9/11 first responders who'd gotten sick at Ground Zero, after — funny story — the government told them the air was safe, but it gave them cancer. ... They actually only funded the Zadroga Act for five years. They said they wanted to make sure the program wouldn't have people who tried to cheat it, and that you could scientifically prove a link between the responders' horrible diseases, and the toxic air they were breathing day in and day out working at Ground Zero.
Noah chimed in with some faux-naive questions — "So you're here because they couldn't prove the link," and "So there was a lot of fraud" — before observing that there seemed to be no reason not to pass it. Stewart's reply: "You're not really from around here, are you?"
They went on to show Stewart's lobbying efforts in the halls of Congress, which he described as "seeing if shame will work." And in at least one instances, it did! While what aired on The Daily Show depicted Stewart and a group of first responders having an awfully hard time actually finding some senators who'd respond to them — Kentucky Republican and presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, for example, was a prominent no-show — Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman did sign onto the Zadroga reauthorization the very same night that he was confronted by the group.
So, as Stewart suggested, maybe shame really does work. At the very least, if you're going to try to influence politicians somehow, it might not be a bad approach. Following the pre-taped segment — and after detailing the grotesque way Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stripped the Zadroga provisions from the transportation bill they'd been attached for purely political reasons — Stewart decided to welcome back the four first responders he interviewed in 2010.
But only one of them was there — former firefighter Kenny Specht, who informed Stewart that two of the others were sick, and one had since died, leaving three conspicuously and powerfully empty chairs sitting on the stage next to them.
Stewart and Specht reflected on the hypocrisy of politicians memorializing 9/11 victims while failing to speak out and step up on the Zadroga Act, and then Stewart coined a hashtag you can join in on if you want to make your displeasure felt: #WorstResponders. The congressional holiday break is rapidly coming upon us, but suffice to say, this isn't an issue that can afford to wait.
Image: The Daily Show/Comedy Central