Apple’s Problem With Jon Stewart

It’s no secret I’m an Apple fan and generally support what the company does. Today is certainly not that day. Buried in the plethora of Apple TV+ content is the fantastic show The Problem With Jon Stewart. It’s a topical half-hour show that’s a cross between the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight. Stewart doesn’t pull any punches, as is his personality. But it seems there’s a line that was crossed... by Apple. Charles Pulliam-Moore at The Verge has more.

Along with concerns about some of the guests booked to be on The Problem With Jon Stewart, Stewart’s intended discussions of artificial intelligence and China were a major concern for Apple. Though new episodes of the show were scheduled to begin shooting in just a few weeks, staffers learned today that production had been halted.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, ahead of its decision to end The Problem, Apple approached Stewart directly and expressed its need for the host and his team to be “aligned” with the company’s views on topics discussed. Rather than falling in line when Apple threatened to cancel the show, Stewart reportedly decided to walk.

The Verge

Firstly, this is some next-level BS by Apple. Full stop. Secondly, kudos to Stewart for walking. It was absolutely the right move.

But the situation is more nuanced than this—mainly because Apple can't give up its addiction to China's market share. Let me explain.

Yes, Apple's products (along with nearly every other company's) have been made in China for over a decade. It's moved production out slowly to India and other countries as a slow-walk away from the communist nation. But even if all manufacturing was moved away, Apple's marketshare in China is humongous. Reporting from last summer shows it floating near 20% in China alone. Factor in China's population and that's a lot of people. As such, it is vital that Apple play by PRoC's rules.

Playing by a country's rules and adhereing to its laws isn't a bad thing. It's basically how USB-C came to the iPhone 15. But... BUT... China's total control over everything its citizens do, see, read, and hear overshadows everything. When Tim Cook and other Apple execs go on about how "privacy is a fundamental human right" it rings a bit hollow when those rights are ignored in order to do business in countries that have no such privacy rights.

Apple's decision to approach Stewart comes down to dollars and business sense. On one hand, Stewart is allowed editorial freedom for his program because that's how America works. On the other hand, Stewart can single-handedly endanger Apple's business, stock, and the literal manufacturing of its products because that's how China works.

Ultimately Apple chose to appease China, as many companies have done, because... money. I personally don't think it made this decision lightly but the optics of the situation are piss poor. Did they think Jon Stewart would walk? Maybe. Easier to save face in a minimal way than have an all-out PR debacle if it pushed back.

Let me be clear: Apple is wholly wrong in this situation.

Apple is a business and does what makes good business sense. Making massive investments in the environment? Good for its wallet and has the added benefit of looking good. Same for its privacy stances, standing up to the FBI, and the list goes on. But when those two things are out of alignment, Apple complies with laws and bows to pressure. One only needs to see the USB-C port on the iPhone 15 and the "no new episodes" banner on Stewart's program for all the evidence one needs.