Comedian and – most recently, director - Jon Stewart earned the title “America’s Most-Trusted Newsman” for his exasperating exploration of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments in national politics and media coverage. He exposes politicians, corporatists, and the media for their contradictions, keeping them honest and educating his audience with information useful to a functioning democracy.
On his Nov. 12, 2014 episode, Stewart explained how terrorist organizations are increasingly poaching elephants to sell their ivory on the black market. He emphasizes that the demand for ivory is driving the trade, and that the United States is the second largest market for elephant ivory. Acknowledging the devastation to elephants, Stewart also questions why Americans would vow to fight terrorism yet buy their black market products.
The United States has banned the sale of ivory, but dealers can claim their product is an antique, and stop investigators from seizing their illicit product. That’s why the Obama administration has proposed a rule that shifts the burden of proof onto the sellers to show the ivory actually is antique. Wildlife trade is only surpassed by weapons smuggling, the drug trade, and human trafficking on the black market, and to cut down on a mechanism to fund acts of terrorism, most members of Congress support the regulation. As Stewart flutters,
“We have just witnessed something rarer than the African Elephant: Bipartisan commitment on an issue.” – Jon Stewart
But there’s one problem: many guns and knives have ivory handles, and the National Rifle Association got up in arms about regulations that would prevent ivory-gun owners from selling their inherited weapons. Knife Rights Chairman Doug Ritter warns, “This investment that you just inherited is worthless.” He claims the proposal is designed to “make the owners criminal,” while attorney Rob Mitchell warns it’s “designed to hurt Americans.”
“So I guess the only thing that should be hurt here are are giant land mammals and victims of African terrorism.” – Jon Stewart
Unfortunately for elephants, the NRA finds a voice in Congress through Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander. He warns the regulation would allow the Obama administration to take away your guns:
Sen. Alexander’s phone number: (202) 224-4944
Senator Alexander continues, personifying how the “confusion and uncertainty” of the Fish and Wildlife Services ban on interstate commerce of ivory products already has “a significant impact on businesses and families alike,” with the example of John Case, “who owns and operates a small family antique business with four employees in Knoxville, Tennessee.”
Case claims he’s missed out on $156,000 on ivory sales because of the F&W regulation, which represents 11% of 2013 revenue. His store features 118 pages of search results for items containing auction, with the note: “this lot contains a substance which is protected and restricted in the United States and by international convention and can only be shipped within the United States.”
Senator Alexander has introduced legislation: “THE LAWFUL IVORY PROTECTION ACT OF 2014, TO STOP THE ADMINISTRATION FROM TAKING AWAY OUR LEGAL GUNS, FROM TAKING AWAY OUR LEGAL GUITARS, AND FROM TAKING AWAY OUR LEGAL ITEMS THAT CONTAIN LEGAL IVORY IF WE TRY TO SELL THEM.”
To which Stewart can only lament,
“This is why we can’t have nice things… like elephants.”
…before going to commercial and ending the segment, defeated.
But not finished. A few weeks later, on his 12/9/14 show, Stewart puts the plight of poaching elephants back in the spotlight, inviting Academy Award-winning Director Kathryn Bigelow on the show and screening her new PSA with WildAid, Last Days of Ivory:
Bigelow directed the 2010 Oscar-winning Best Motion Picture, The Hurt Locker. She and former Deputy National Security Advisor Juan Zarate explain to Stewart how terrorists have industrialized elephant poaching, how ivory sales fuel terrorist acts like the 2013 al-Shebab attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, and that elephants may only have a decade left in the wild.
The Daily Show averages around 1.3 million viewers – hopefully some are in Tennessee, and will write their senator urging him to prioritize saving elephant – and human lives – over antique sales.
For highlighting this important issue with his powerful lens, we salute Jon Stewart and The Daily Show staff and producers!