Jon Stewart Berates GOP and Media for Inattention to 9/11 Health Needs

He got their attention, but can he change their minds?

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Last week, Republicans successfully blocked a piece of legislation called the Zadroga Bill in the Senate. The bill's full name is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill-- if passed, it would provide health care to 9/11 first responders who endured illness as a result of the dust and chemicals inhaled while cleaning up debris at ground zero. Though the bill isn't necessarily dead, Republican refusal to discuss the matter on the Senate floor almost guarantees that it won't be passed before Congress members go home for Christmas and chances are slim that the new group of lawmakers will give it life.

The matter didn't receive much press coverage until Jon Stewart dedicated almost ten minutes of his show Monday to a dual admonishment of both the Republican senators who refused to discuss the bill and the mainstream news networks that virtually ignored the topic. "Guess what, Republicans?" Stewart said, "Here's the deal: Your 'We're the only party who understands 9/11 and its repercussions' monopoly ends now!'"

Stewart seems to have sparked some discussion of the issue with this feature. Have a look:

  • Don't Make Sick People Wait  In an interview last week, Republican Senator John Thune told Don Imus that the January 1 expiration date on Bush tax cuts gave the tax deal precedent over other "last minute initiatives," assuring that "we can do them [the other initiatives] next year." Today, Barbara Morrill at Daily Kos comments on Thune's promise, writing:
... or the year after that, or the year after that, or the year after that, ad infinitum, because Republicans have been obstructing every effort to address this issue for over four years. ... Meanwhile, the men and women that Republicans rushed to call heroes and use for photo-ops at every opportunity continue to sicken and die, but that's okay because Thune and his Republican cronies will get around to taking care of them ... eventually."
  • Tax Cuts Are More Important?  Think Progress's George Zornick was also taken aback by Thune's explanation for waiting. "The bill, or very similar versions, were first introduced in the House over four years ago, and have suffered repeated Republican obstruction ever since," he writes. "Nevertheless, Thune apparently finds the preservation of low tax rates for the wealthy to be a more pressing matter."
  • Go Stewart  Chris Rovzar praises Stewart's rant against the GOP as "practically operatic," proclaiming that "the pièce de résistance was a video montage 'honoring' the Republican senators who have issued thanks to the first responders from the Senate floor--followed by clips of each and every one of them voting against debate over the Zadroga Bill. The overlay of the swelling tones of Lee Greenwood's 'God Bless the USA' will nearly give you goose bumps."
...After watching the Monday episode of The Daily Show, Little Green Footballs blogger Charles Johnson deemed the denial of the Zadroga bill "one of the most disgusting moves yet from the all-new, all-crazy GOP."
  • Can Stewart Reach the GOP?  Steve Benen at Washington Monthly shares his fellow bloggers' appreciation for the Daily Show rant, but wonders if it will have much of an effect. "For what it's worth, I suspect the GOP will ignore Stewart's admonition-- they're a shameless bunch--and go on pretending that they somehow 'own' the terrorist attacks. But I'm glad Stewart took them to task anyway. Someone had to," he writes.
  • Jon Stewart is Not the Only One Frustrated with the Media  Brian Stelter at The New York Times' Media Decoder Blog also commented on the episode in question, in which Stewart invited 9/11 first responders on stage to discuss their health and medical needs. Stelter shares an email from another person "shocked by the dearth of television news coverage about the bill":
Eric Ortner, a former "Good Morning America" senior producer who worked as a medic at the Trade Center site on 9/11, expressed dismay that Mr. Stewart has been virtually alone in the media in expressing outrage.
'In just nine months time, my skilled colleagues will be jockeying to outdo one another on 10th anniversary coverage' of the attacks, Mr. Ortner wrote in an e-mail message. 'The sad thing will be that the wall to wall coverage will be little more than window dressing with little true consequence. They'll make us feel patriotic and tearfully grateful as they sidebar a piece or two on the plight of the rescue workers who still seem to be dying broke, ill, and in need of basic benefits.'
  • US News Scooped by Al Jazeera?  Juan Cole at Informed Comment caught Stewart's mention of Al Jazeera as the one television news source that devoted time to discussing the bill to help 9/11 first responders in which he proclaimed that US television networks were scooped by "the same network Osama bin Laden sends his mixtapes to. This is insane!" Cole, however, notes:
The only correction I'd make is that Aljazeera is not sympathetic to al-Qaeda or Muslim radicalism, but has a philosophy of reporting all sides of conflicts. So it is natural that they cover the first responders as well as broadcasting short excerpts from al-Qaeda videos. Unlike US network news, they don't consider themselves our nannies, that they should filter the news for us and protect us from hearing the words of enemies.

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