With the exception of five days in 2013, Dick Molpus has always been a big fan of Jon Stewart.
So when Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, announced Tuesday he was leaving the show after 16 years, Molpus was saddened by the news.
“I know I had my 15 seconds of fame with him,” Molpus said.
Molpus, Mississippi’s Secretary of State from 1984 until 1996, found himself on the sharp end of Stewart’s legendary biting wit, and for reasons that were totally undeserved two years ago.
On his Feb. 22, 2013, show Stewart lampooned the state of Mississippi about a recent news item that revealed that Mississippi had finally ratified the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. Stewart asserted, incorrectly as it turned out, that the state’s ratification papers had been deliberately lost or destroyed by Molpus in 1995. In 2013 it was discovered the U.S. Department of Archives never received the ratification papers in 1995. When Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann re-submitted the paper in 2013, the news caught Stewart’s attention and Molpus was soon the butt of Stewart’s sharp satire.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Molpus, who was floored by the insinuation. “It turned out to be a long weekend for me and I think it’s fair to say I was more than a little miffed. What hurt the most is that what he was accusing me of was so totally different than everything I stood for and had been doing for so many years. It was a bitter pill, for sure.”
Almost immediately after the program, Molpus began getting emails and phone calls from friends and associates who recognized how unfairly he had been treated.
“Looking back now, one of the things I realized is the enormous audience he had, especially among younger people. The under-35 population may not know who Brian Williams is, but I assure you, they know Jon Stewart. I got emails from 20 countries, 400 emails from people all over the United States who had ties to Mississippi.”
Molpus assumed the incident would soon run its course and be forgotten.
But on the following Monday evening, Stewart opened his show with an apology.
“I had no idea he was going to do that,” Molpus said. “I certainly didn’t ask for an apology, and he confirmed that on the show. He just looked straight at the camera and took responsibility for everything. And he did it at the beginning of the show. It was the first thing. He didn’t have to apologize at all and if he did, he certainly didn’t have to do it at the start of the show. That told me he was sincere. I was impressed.”
While Molpus has long admired Stewart for his insightful, often biting satire, it was the apology that stands as a testament to Stewart’s character, Molpus said.
“He brought an awful lot to the process, through his talent and the audience he attracted,” Molpus said. “But that apology, well, that’s something a lot of people in his position would never bring themselves to do. That’s pretty special, I think.
“His audience, along with his presence on social media, is something that sets him apart. He didn’t invent political satire, but he brought it to a much larger, much younger audience that it had ever had before.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.