This week, the documentary Herblock — The Black & the White, about the life and legacy of the revered political cartoonist Herbert Block — who earned three Pulitzers, total editorial control, and the warning “Don’t mess with Herb” around The Washington Post newsroom where he spent 55 years — premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival. It should come as no surprise that it features insights from Daily Show host Jon Stewart. “From the nearly three years it took to assemble the 40-plus interviews that make up [the film], we heard from so many how Jon Stewart is an heir in many ways to Herb and his satirical style,” director Michael Stevens tells EW in an email. “When we interviewed Jon — he was our last — he called Herb a ‘touchstone’ for all of those comics, writers and satirists who feel it’s their job to take on the powerful and stick up for the little guy.”
Watch a sneak peek of Stewart below, cut exclusively for EW by Stevens, who’s won four consecutive Emmys for shepherding The Kennedy Center Honors with his producing-partner father, George Stevens, Jr. (a streak that, it’s worth noting, began with the 2009 telecast that included Stewart delivering a benchmark tribute to honoree Bruce Springsteen).
In the documentary, Stewart admires Herblock, whose work helped take down Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, for the consistency of his eye, his “ability to show not tell,” and his timelessness — for better or worse. “It’s frustrating for a guy to have a cartoon that you can use in the year 2000, that he could have done in ’34,” Stewart says. “Fifty years from now, you could probably throw this out there, and it would be still pretty relevant.”
For the director, “What makes Herb relevant today is that he harkens back to a journalistic era when reporters believed they had an essential role in strengthening the Democracy by keeping the politicians honest and making sure that there was a level playing field in American life,” he tells EW. “They were not consumed by tweets, ratings and self-promotion. Only the Truth.”
Real journalism is another thing Stewart expresses his admiration for in Herblock — The Black & the White: “Satire is a luxury,” he says. “I do think that one of the difficulties of what we do is, it can be cathartic, it can be satisfying, but it can also be feckless. I think it can crystallize things, it can inform in ways that maybe other things can’t, but there ain’t nothing like good ol’ fashion, 24/7 full-on journalism.”