Ten Miles Square


January 11, 2013 8:49 AM Jon Stewart Faceplants on #MintTheCoin

By Ryan Cooper

Jon Stewart took a look at the platinum coin option on his show last night, and it really sucked:

Let’s review. The Republican House has passed a budget legally obliging the executive to spend a certain amount, but they are threatening to withhold borrowing authority to pay for the spending they themselves passed into law unless they get what they want. Since this would probably lead to the government missing an interest payment and thus threatening the status of US Treasury securities, the bedrock of the entire financial system, Republicans are literally taking the world economy hostage to extract unrelated policy concessions. The platinum coin option is an emergency proposal to use the government’s seigniorage power to continue to fund the government’s operations without issuing additional debt.

Stewart, in quite possibly the laziest and most irresponsible segment I’ve ever seen on the Daily Show, doesn’t mention any of that background; in fact he gives a grossly misleading context. “America’s got a bit of a cash flow problem these days,” he says. “We’ve have a 16 trillion dollar debt, our credit rating was downgraded for the first time last year. I think we can all agree it’s time to get serious and figure out a way to restore the world’s respect for the soundness of our currency.” This is just utterly wrong. There is no worry whatsoever in the markets about the soundness of the dollar. Again, demand for US debt is so strong that people are literally paying us to take their money—inflation-adjusted yields for 10-year Treasury bonds are below zero.

Then he quotes a news segment saying “a $1 trillion platinum coin could be minted, and the government could use that to pay the debt.” Again wrong. This is about paying the government’s current financial obligations, not paying down the debt.

Stewart continues: “I’m not an economist, but I say go big or go home. How about a $20 trillion coin?” He later quotes a slightly better explanation of the actual mechanics of the coin option, but only to make fun of the guy’s name. After some more jokes, he wraps up with “we don’t need a trillion-dollar coin gimmick, we need a way to make the world take the US dollar seriously again.”

Not once during the segment does he mention the actual reason for the coin proposal—the debt ceiling—neither does he correctly explain how it would work or why. It would have been okay for Stewart to dismiss the proposal, but to be blithely scornful of it while providing a terribly inaccurate explanation is infuriating.

I won’t say that Stewart has the same obligation to be accurate the journalists have—in fact, if he had brought up the coin only to make a lot of silly jokes about whose face would be on it, that would have been okay. (A missed opportunity, but nothing more.) But instead he grossly misled his audience.

At its best the Daily Show is about satirizing the actual reality of American governance in an honest way. Stewart has built up a lot of credibility over the years. A great many people trust him implicitly, believing that while his main objective is to be funny, he also won’t under any circumstances BS them. Yesterday, he betrayed that trust.

Shame on you, Jon Stewart. You’re better than this.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • orp cowboy on January 12, 2013 5:59 PM:

    Besides being - supprisingly - ill informed on the issue (to long a break?, lazy?, lost Krugman's number?) Jon missed out a HUGE opportunity to bash the Republicans, he always manages to do in such a delightfull way. Do not lose it yet Jon.

  • daveysthunderpegasus on January 12, 2013 8:25 PM:

    At what point did you realize that the information was not entirely accurate? was it the "unicorn felching a centaur" or "Chocoloate, Blowjobs and Beyond?". And of course, you point out that there is a difference between the jokes and making factual arguments -and Stewart does both- but I am not sure if you really understood which was which. Firstly, he might not be correct in saying the world does not have faith in the dollar (which I think is something that is at least debated http://www.investingdaily.com/16073/the-dollar-not-dead-yet), but the statement served as less of a talking point and more of a lead-in to satirizing a very unorthodox strategy -minting trillion $ a coin!. Secondly, "go in or go all the way" was also a joke. Thirdly, you're calling him out for "quoting the news"?

    Okay, I get it. It might be misleading to assume the premise that the world lacks faith dollar, but considering the level of outrage in this article -saying its "lazy" and "irresponsible"- you would have thought he was egregiously lying to promote a political agenda (LIKE FOX NEWS). And all because you he left out what you would have preferred him to say. Just little bit of clemency, you know, for a comedy show.

  • Nyarlat on January 13, 2013 5:39 AM:

    Jon Stewart fell for teh libertarian and republican propaganda on "sound money".
    What a sad day. Next time he will endorse to buy gold coins?

  • newsless on January 13, 2013 10:52 AM:

    Fatherhood and age have taken their toll on Jon. He no longer enjoys confrontation but seems to be trying to mollify if not win fans on the right. He was a great replacement for Craig Kilborn. It would be a good time for Comedy Central to replace Jon with a younger, less rich comedian that understands what Jon seems to have forgotten--The Daily Show can speak truth to power when no other media will. It's hard for Jon to do since he's become so powerful in his own right and is one of the rich, old white guys that have forgotten how the rest of us live. Yes, he's become lazy, too. But I doubt seriously that he's ever put much effort into anything and that was ok when he was funny. Colbert's show is ten times smarter.

  • El Cid on January 13, 2013 10:56 AM:

    There's a general strain of weird fetishism about a "strong" dollar in this country, without any sort of utilitarian sensibility of what that means or what a currency is or should be and so forth.

    It's all about "strong," and what sounds like it might be "strong," and some vague sense that if the dollar is "up" then it's "strong," and if it's "strong", then it is good, because STRONG = GOOD.

    Perhaps it's the fault of ordinary business reporting of varying currency rates with value-loaded terms, such that the use of the term "strong" with relation to the US dollar sounds like more than it is supposed to suggest.

    Sure, someone who had an interest and had some particular reason or specific argument as to why at some point the dollar might serve the interests of some group or groups of Americans if it were trading higher than some other currency.

    But most of the time it's just a sort of general, uninformed, imagery-laden set of references about a "strong" dollar embodying every stereotype which flies around about a "good" economy.

  • Burt Borrick on January 13, 2013 5:50 PM:

    Maybe Jon should have explained to Swiss how lucky they were with their 'strong franc' back in 2011.

    Those Silly Swiss...


  • Monroe Anderson on January 14, 2013 9:27 AM:

    Maybe - just maybe - Jon Stewart isn't better than this. Maybe Jon Stewart has been this intellectually lazy for quite some time.

  • David in NYC on January 14, 2013 10:14 AM:

    If you have been watching TDS for a while, this doesn't come as much of a shock. Stewart clearly knows little or nothing about economics, and apparently has no desire or intention to learn anything about it.

    He also has fallen -- hook, line, and sinker -- for the "both sides do it" false equivalency meme. In fact, that was the whole point behind his "Rally to Restore Sanity". The depth of analysis is roughly, "Politicians?! Amirite, people?"

    Have to agree with newsless above: either age or fatherhood (or both) have made Stewart exceedingly charitable to people who deserve no charity at all.

  • Moon on January 14, 2013 11:45 AM:

    The angst of some of the commentators here seem to be about why Jon is attacking the Democrats and not the Republicans, we are the cool guuys? It was all fun and games till he made fun of Bush and Republicans. Since Colbert continues to mock the Rs, he is still funny.

  • reality check on January 15, 2013 11:49 AM:

    yeah, because there is no debt problem in this country...

    killer hint:

    Canada (a social democratic country) cut spending 7 to 1 on revenue when it dealt with its public debt problem (HINT2: the public debt to GDP ratio was LESS THAN THE US right now)

    But yeah "republicans are stupid", the trillion dollar coin is brilliant.

    Can't wait for the US consumption tax to come after interest rates
    go up, so all you true believers can STFU.

  • Dan on January 15, 2013 12:09 PM:

    I agree that Jon misunderstood the point of the coin, and missed an opportunity to nail the republicans of the whole situation.

    But has Jon lost it? I don't think so. Go back and watch his talk about gun control last week. It was straight out anger about how some people misunderstand the role of guns in our society.

    So I think in some areas he is stronger (social issues) than other areas (economics). You take the good and the bad with JS. I'm still watching his show