During Jon Stewart's first taping of The Daily Show from here in Washington this week, the host took on National Public Radio for the company's decision to fire commentator Juan Williams -- and thereby draw the wrath of Fox News. Stewart noted that Fox News signed him to a $2 million contract just for getting fired.
"NPR, you just brought a tote bag of David Sedaris books to a knife fight," said Stewart.
In other words: Don't come unprepared.
Which is why it's something that, with just four days and counting until Stewart and Stephen Colbert take to the National Mall with their twin "Rally To Restore Sanity" and "March To Keep Fear Alive" gatherings, it's wholly unclear what Stewart and co. are bringing to D.C.
The broad agenda is clear: Assemble tens of thousands of liberal fans on the National Mall, bring out their two favorite talking heads, and hilarity will ensue.
Some of the essential questions have been answered. The rally will gather between 12:00 noon and 3:00 p.m. on the National Mall. Attendees will assemble between 3rd and 7th Streets NW, near the Capitol side. Oprah Winfrey and Ariana Huffington will provide transportation.
From there the details are sketchier. The frequently asked questions section on the official rally website goes so far as to include a link to Rand McNally for people looking for maps to Washington -- but it does not list any of performers or speakers for the rally. Presumably, Stewart and Colbert will each have something to say.
These two shouldn't have any trouble assembling any number of comedians, Hollywood hosts or other entertainment acts, of course. But just like Fox News host Glenn Beck, Colbert and Stewart may have a different agenda. In Beck's efforts to paint his "Restoring Honor" rally as nonpartisan, he declined to talk much at all about politics or politicians -- and delivered instead four medals of honor and an old-fashioned homily.
Attendees probably shouldn't expect explicit boosterism for the Democratic Party from Stewart and Colbert -- no matter how left leaning they and their audience may appear to be. The rally website emphasizes moderation and levelheadedness, more a protest of alarmism than cause for alarm. Yet Anne Applebaum is fairly bothered by the whole thing: a good indication as any that the event is reasonably liberal.
Though President Barack Obama will appear on The Daily Show this week as the show tapes at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Harmon Hall, the "Rally To Restore Sanity" may not do much to restore the Democratic Party's fortunes. Progressive organizers fret that the youthful liberals traveling to D.C. for the rally are the same who might otherwise be canvassing for progressive candidates in vulnerable districts.