Jon Stewart, Health Wonk
Jon leaves behind a legacy of bold and funny public health advocacy.
The Daily Show has effectively covered public health with unmatched regularity, depth, and of course — humor. Jon is basically the public health officer of Cable TV, having raised public awareness of health leaders like Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, Bill Gates, and various Secretaries of HHS. He even mentored and graduated health heroes like Senior Epidemiologist Steven Colbert and Senior Healthcare Analyst Jon Oliver.
Jon covered all the major public health issues: healthcare, disease epidemics, obesity, and smoking — but he also got super wonky about obscure health subjects like disease risk perception, lobbying, labeling standards, media literacy, and health-washing.
The Daily Show has aired so much coverage of healthcare reform since the 1990s that watching his clips captures the ridiculous evolution of the debate. tl:dr it’s not the apocalypse, aparteid, or ISIS.
“Maybe we’re no the first best or second best healthcare, but at least we’re in the top 37th”.
Jon has gotten so nerdy about health policy on the show, he would literally debate it line by line.
A baby-faced Jon mocked early smoke-free laws but his tobacco prevention coverage evolved to focus on into industry targeting, cover Clinton’s tobacco policies, make fun of Bush’s ironic anti-tobacco treaties, and eventually celebrate policy victories against Big Tobacco.
“Public health… in New York… oh boy, good news. From now on when you leave your cockroach infested apartment and narrowly avoid a rat bite while waiting for a urine-soaked subway train to take you to a bar, you’ll be breating our crappy air.”
“I appreciate that you won’t say it, but just nod if you think American children are pussies.”
“I can I assure you that if I had sex with a dead crow, it was heterosexual, consensual, and monogamous”.
“Not a damn immunologist in the control room!”
“Pandemic is an anagram for Dem Panic.”
The Daily Show has targeted obesity and food system reform for a full generation. It’s hard to believe how little obesity prevention policies have advanced after all this attention.
“On a scale between 5 years olds who smoke to 14 year olds having unprotected anal sex, where does obesity fit in?”
“The old pyramid bred confusion, leaving millions of Americans building and eating actual food pyramids — which was not the idea at all.”
“If you’re like me, every year you make a new years resolution to make your children to lose weight”.
“How divided are we as a nation? We have two type of diabetes in this country and if Obama is against them, America’s #1 news network is for one of them.”
Sexual health wasn’t taboo either, often ridiculing Republican meddling.
“Wow, pretending teenagers don’t have functioning genitals doesn’t work. Whoa, you just unblew my mind.”
And even something as simple as hand-washing could catapult Jon into a poignant rant about the limitations of free market.
In your truly free market utopian world, the restaurant wouldn’t have to tell you if employees hands are washed or not. By the time the free market figured out just which establishments’ Venti pumpkin spice came with turd-uccino, we’d be far more concerned with the free-market price spice in cholera medicine.
Of course Jon’s humor and idealism weren’t always good health policy.
He gave his platform to anti-vaxxers (though he later admitted he was wrong), proposed reintroducing crack instead of reducing beverage portion sizes, relentlessly mocked overweight Americans, celebrated hookah popularity, and regularly sensationalized health activists by highlighting extremes like concerned mom’s comparing cupcakes to antifreeze.
But no one’s perfect, and Jon was pretty damn amazing. He defined health issues with characteristic wit and the occasional poop joke — engaging the next generation in crucial conversations not happening anywhere else. The public’s health will surely suffer from a lack of creative health metaphors and devastating take downs.