After two seasons, Apple TV Plus' flagship current affairs show The Problem With Jon Stewart has abruptly been canceled. The reason, according to Stewart's people at least, is that Apple has a problem with Jon Stewart: specifically, with his plans to cover China, where Apple has significant financial interests, and AI, which Apple is reported to be investing heavily in.
According to the New York Times, "people with knowledge of the decision" say that Stewart and Apple are parting ways because of creative differences: specifically, differences between Stewart and Apple executives over "some of the topics and guests". Apple execs were apparently particularly concerned about potential topics including China and AI, and about how Stewart would cover the upcoming 2024 presidential election.
Apple hasn't commented so far; we've requested confirmation and will update this story if we receive a response.
This isn't the first time Apple has reportedly canned shows after concerns from the management. In 2020, Tim Cook was said intervened to stop the production of a planned TV show called Scraper, which was based on the now defunct website Gawker – the site that outed Cook as gay without his consent in 2011. And a Dr Dre TV show, Vital Signs, was reportedly canned in 2018 due to "characters doing lines of cocaine", "lots of guns" and "an extended orgy", which was apparently deemed to be outside of what Apple wanted to depict in its shows.
So what's the problem?
The problem with The Problem With... is simple
The problem that Jon Stewart and his team have allegedly encountered is a simple one: good journalism's job is to speak truth to power. And if that power is paying for your journalism, you might find that some truths are more welcome than others. According to The Hollywood Reporter, before the decision to cancel the show was made Apple approached Stewart and explained that he needed to be "aligned" with Apple's views; Stewart is claimed to have refused and said he'd rather cancel the show than toe the corporate line.
It's worth pointing out two things here: Apple TV Plus is an entertainment network, not a journalism enterprise. And Apple routinely requests or makes changes to all kinds of things based on seeming commercial interests. Apple appears to be particularly uneasy about criticism of China, based on reported history. There's a whole Wikipedia section devoted to its changes to protect its status there, ranging from the shuttering of its News app in 2015 to its changing of AirDrop settings following protests in Beijing in 2022.
Apple is very cautious about content and has been for years – not just on TV but in books, songs, podcasts and apps. For example, back in the Steve Jobs days, Jobs said that "we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone... folks who want porn can buy an Android phone". But while Apple poses as taking the moral high ground, you don't get to be the world's biggest tech company without making some compromises – and if the world's biggest tech firm decides to pay for a current affairs show, that show is likely to be expected to compromise too.
What we're seeing here is part of a wider problem, which is: who pays for the news we need – not clickbait, not propaganda, but accurate, ethical, investigative journalism? It clearly can't be ads alone, and if it's companies or billionaires with their own vested interests, that's always going to raise questions about neutrality. The ongoing and worsening crisis in news media is exactly the kind of thing Jon Stewart's show used to cover.
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.