Those Times Jon Stewart Was Summoned to the White House

A "useful prod" for the administration.

As we’ve spent much of the duration of Jon Stewart‘s run on The Daily Show joking (or not joking) that his fake news was more real than network news, it turns out the legitimate policy stances at the heart of his political jests have impacted government policy.

So valued, in fact, is Stewart’s ability to make audiences notice and care about policy, that the host made two trips to the White House to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office, according to Politico‘s Darren Samuelsohn.

The first meeting occurred in October 2011, during a fight with Congressional Republicans over the budget, and the second in February 2014, right before a speech delivered by the president warning Russia against further incursions into Ukraine.

Courting Stewart, an approach taken as well by White House officials, including aides David Axelrod and Austan Goolsbee, is, writes Samuelsohn, a “work-the-umps strategy,” that gave the president “a chance to sell the administration’s ideas.”

At the 2011 sit-down, Goolsbee said, the president wanted to counter his critics on the left and lay the groundwork for his 2012 re-election campaign.”

“The White House itself was quite interested in at least explaining its side of the story to Jon Stewart,” Goolsbee said, “up to and including the president.”

Axelrod also used Stewart as a way to bring up important points with the administration.

Axelrod, a frequent Stewart guest, kept in touch with the host by phone and email. In an interview, Axelrod said Stewart was “a useful prod” for the administration.

“I can’t say that because Jon Stewart was unhappy policy changed. But I can say that he had forceful arguments, they were arguments that we knew would be heard and deserved to be answered,” Axelrod said.

Stewart’s departure leaves a void to be filled. Perhaps this time it can be someone other than a comedian who can speak truth to power on such a resonant level. Or perhaps only a comedian can.