Jon Stewart is not used to finding himself at odds with fellow open-minded media personalities, but some comments he made on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert aren’t sitting well with legendary news anchor Dan Rather. Last Monday, Colbert hosted his first show in front of a live studio audience in more than a year; he welcomed his good friend and former The Daily Show boss Stewart as his guest. While it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn toward the pandemic, Stewart’s stance seemed to surprise everyone—including Colbert.
“I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to science,” Stewart said. “Science has, in many ways, helped ease the suffering of this pandemic, which was more than likely caused by science.”
Colbert, visibly taken aback, pressed further to make sure he was understanding Stewart’s comment correctly. Amazingly, he was. Though there’s no direct evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 virus was created in a lab, Stewart seems to believe in the “lab leak” theory, which suggests that the coronavirus escaped a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
While originally the theory of choice for Donald “China Virus” Trump and other leaders looking for scapegoats, the idea of a “lab leak” has been picking up steam more widely with people of all stripes. But Colbert is not one of them, and neither is Rather.
“Scientists, and the very ideals of science, are under attack on many fronts,” Rather tweeted on Sunday morning. “This is dangerous and shortsighted. So I was dismayed to hear Jon Stewart add to the ‘questioning’ when he went on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this week.”
Scientists, and the very ideals of science, are under attack on many fronts. This is dangerous and shortsighted. So I was dismayed to hear Jon Stewart add to the "questioning" when he went on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this week. My thoughts here.https://t.co/p38C7zXvEX
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) June 20, 2021
Rather included a link to his Steady op-ed, where he wrote nearly 1,500 words “In Defense of Science,” in which he noted that, “A year and half later, the origins of the virus remain a mystery and China has been far from forthcoming—to say the least—about what they know, and did.” But he went on to note that “[M]ost virologists do not think that the virus has the chemical fingerprints of human engineering. But that could be perhaps a possibility. We just don’t know. And we need to try to find out, letting the facts lead wherever they may.”
Rather went on to write about the attacks against scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci who, if we had listened to from the very beginning and not watched as he was painted as the enemy, would have likely prevented many deaths. “We can expect that from the supporters of Donald Trump,” Rather wrote, “but the words of Jon Stewart and many who share his politics show that this is not an issue that cuts neatly along partisan lines.”
The last straw for Rather was Stewart’s final comment that while he loves all scientists and that “they do such good work but they are going to kill us all.” Rather’s response? “I cannot overemphasize how dangerous this line of thinking is.”
If Rather’s criticisms aren’t enough to make Stewart rethink some of what he said, maybe the fact that Ted Cruz gave him a “Hallelujah” and “Preach, brother, preach” will.
You can watch Stewart’s full interview below, and read Rather’s full response here.