Jul 29, 2019 - Economy

Jon Stewart’s 9/11 victims crusade included lots of Fox News

Jon Stewart holds up the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in June.

Jon Stewart holds up the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in June. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

The 9/11 first responders will no longer need to swarm Congress every 5 years to extend their benefits, and it's thanks largely to the much-publicized work of Jon Stewart and the lesser-known role of John Feal.

Why it matters: There are 95,320 members enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program, which was set up to help those with medical conditions linked to the attacks.

  • While funding was supposed to last into 2020, the program had already been running dry with some victims getting reduced checks earlier this year, The Daily Beast reported.
  • The extension will fund payments through the 2092 fiscal year.

The big picture: It's very hard to move Congress to do anything fast these days. The success of Stewart, Feal and others wasn't just a feel good example of going viral for the right reasons — it conveyed a smart strategy to get the right message to the right people, including lots of outreach on Fox News.

  • 2001: Stewart memorably talked about the attacks on "The Daily Show."
  • 2010: Stewart hosted first responders on "The Daily Show" to successfully push for a formal extension to the 9/11 victims fund. It narrowly passed.
  • 2015: Stewart and Feal were interviewed by Fox News' Shepard Smith. Feal told Smith: "Leadership on the Republican Party has always been against this."

Fast forward to 2019, via Axios' Rashaan Ayesh:

  • June 11: Stewart rebukes congressional members for their absence during a hearing about the importance of the fund. He called their absences "an embarrassment to the country, and it is a stain on this institution."
  • June 20: Retired NYPD detective Luis Alvarez appeared on Smith's program from hospice care: "9/11 happened, we got called down. It’s my job as an NYPD detective to respond to emergencies. ... I’m no one special, and I did what all the other guys did. Now we are paying the price for it."
  • Several weeks later: Feal met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who promised to pass the bill before the August recess. "He got watery-eyed. His eyes filled with water. I don’t know if there is a soul in there, but he’s made up of water just like everybody else," Feal told The Daily Beast.
  • July 17: Stewart went on Fox News' "Special Report with Bret Baier" to call out Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for voting against the victims fund, but supporting Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts that added billions to the national deficit.
  • July 23: The Senate passes the bill, sending it to Trump's desk.
  • July 23: Feal thanks Fox News for all the airtime to get the message out: "Thank you for having me. Thank you to Fox, everybody at Fox News. You guys have been amazing. I can’t thank you enough. And you guys truly helped us get here."
"Fox News is pleased to have played a small part in amplifying the voices of the 9/11 heroes. We all owe those first responders an incalculable and unpayable debt, and we are grateful Washington has acted in a bipartisan way to alleviate some of their pain, by permanently authorizing the Victim Compensation Fund."
— Jay Wallace, President and Executive Editor of FOX News and FOX Business Network

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