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Watch: Jon Stewart Hosts Drone Expert, Asks Nothing About Civilian Deaths

Last night, Jon Stewart hosted Mary “Missy” Cummings, a MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, on The Daily Show. Cummings was on because she was recently a spokesperson in a PBS documentary called Rise of the Drones, which FireDogLake powerfully argued today is an “infomercial for the military defense industry.”

Throughout the interview, Stewart entertained Cummings’s accounts on why drone technology is important, its commercial uses and its precision. They laughed about drones seeming dystopian and concluded that this was merely a perception. Stewart’s big concern seemed to be how many people will acquire drones now that they’re easy and cheap to make. No mention of innocent casualties.

At times, Stewart danced around the inaccuracies of drone use and civilian deaths; at one point asking, “Is it easier to lose sight of its killing power, given the distance that you have from it?”

Cummings responded by saying that drone use is just a continuation of a military trend:

We have been backing up warfare for many, many years — from the high-altitude bombing to Tomahawk missiles, ballistic missiles — so flying drones is getting us further from the target, but that has been a long, existing trend.

Cummings also attempted to justify the precision of drones. She explained that when she used to fly F18s for the Navy, she would only be able to talk to one person on the radio and was very stressed out about making the right decision when firing missiles.

Drones, however, make warfare much less stressful, Cummings explained:

Today, we have other people on the ground, and they’re all talking to each other, they’re all talking to the air traffic control plane in the sky, they’re talking to people at the Pentagon for example. So we’ve got a lot more people talking to each other, in real time, and so I think drone warfare is actually a safer, more effective form of warfare.

How sweet — everyone’s working together now on figuring whom to kill. Glad that relieves people of some stress and accountability. But effective?

Cummings continues:

“I think we’re having less collateral damage…”

Really? Because the last time I checked, researchers estimate about 2,600 - 3,400 people have been killed via drone in Pakistan, and only two percent of them were on the U.S. government’s high-value target list. Of those killed by drones, nearly 200 have been confirmed to be children. In a sobering piece earlier this week, Drones Watch compiled a list of the names and ages of children killed by drones.

Anyway, she continues:

“…And certainly we’re having less blue on blue kill, which is when we kill our own people.”

Yeah — that’s what she’s really trying to say. American lives — the important lives — are being saved. The introduction of drone warfare perhaps means that eventually there will be no need to put American lives at risk, no more seeing our American comrades die — making war for Americans seem easier and easier.

Stewart doesn’t critique any of these problematic comments made by Cummings.

If Stewart wasn’t so amazing at getting to the heart of issues, occasionally even tearing his interview subjects to pieces, I wouldn’t be so critical. But he has proven time and time again that he is fully capable of this. After all, he often practices better journalism than actual media outlets. But when it comes to drones, his coverage last night was lacking — and his drone coverage has been poor in the past

I’m not sure what the point of Cummings appearance was, but in the end, Stewart’s softball questions and uncritical coverage ultimately worked to depoliticize drones and celebrate them as simply an advancement in technology.

You can watch the interview below:


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