The second wave of sexual assault reckoning has begun, and it involves asking some of the guys who were standing by as their friends assaulted people, “What the fuck were you doing?” On Tuesday, Jon Stewart attempted to answer that question as though he hasn’t had at least a year to think about it.
Stewart appeared on NBC’s Today to promote Night of Too Many Stars on HBO, a special that his pal Louis C.K. was booked on. C.K. lost that gig after the New York Times exposé regarding his habitual self-exposure.
In the clip above, Stewart is asked about how he reacted to the revelations and C.K.’s admittance of guilt, and says he was “stunned.”
This rings false given that Stewart was asked publicly about the allegations against C.K. in 2016, allegations that have been swirling for years in the comedy community where Stewart has made his home. And Stewart publicly dismissed them.
To his credit, it does seem like he hasn’t given much consideration to how he should officially be reacting to the news, if his meandering response is any indication:
“You know, you give your friends the benefit of the doubt. I try to think of it in terms of—I’ve had friends who have had compulsions and have done things, gambling or drinking and drugs, and we’ve lost some of them. Some of them have died. And you always find yourself back to a moment of: did I miss something? Could I have done more? And in this situation, I think we all could have. So you feel anger at what he did to people. Look, comedy on its best day is not a great environment for women. I think it’s gotten better over the years, but certainly when we started 30 years ago it was really difficult, and so to do it was an act of bravery in and of itself.”
It is true that Stewart, and other men in C.K.’s orbit who likely knew of his transgressions, could have done more. They could have refused to support his ass. Thinking of it in terms of a gambling or drug addiction may help Stewart make sense of his friend’s compulsive abuse of power dynamics, but C.K. wasn’t in danger of jerking himself off to death.
When questioned harder about his “stunned” response, Stewart brings up the broadcast with David Axelrod where he was confronted with the rumors a year ago:
“My first response was: what? And then, joke joke, and as he kept going I was like, ‘Look, I know this is very serious, but I know Louie. He’s always been a gentleman—to me.’ Which, again, speaks to the blindness that I think a man has, which is like, ‘Hey, he’s a good guy, what are you talking about?’
Stewart says vaguely afterwards that “we” did some “digging around in it,” which seems to imply that following that confrontation he asked about the allegations behind the scenes. He says he was told, “No.” And that was the end of it.
“We took somebody’s word for it, and maybe that’s an error on our part,” he says.