Members of Congress Want to Know If Jon Stewart’s Show on Apple TV+ Ended Because of China

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Nov 16 2023 |
Promotional photo from Apple TV+

The leaders of the Select Committee on the CCP wrote directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook seeking answers.

Television shows get canceled all the time, but few attract Congressional attention when they do.

Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday to find out whether the company’s streaming service pumped the brakes on “The Problem with Jon Stewart” due to conflicts over the show’s content — including a planned segment on China.

We wrote about the controversy back in October, as it serves as a good example of a growing conflict that’s happening within many American corporations. While Apple and others enjoy the prestige that comes with giving folks like Stewart a platform to take on the issues of the day, these companies aren’t as keen when the spotlight turns to things that may impact their bottom line.

Apple definitely has prioritized its relationship with China’s government, given its massive manufacturing presence in China and its need to sell iPhones there. Just last night, Cook attended a big dinner held in San Francisco in honor of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and Cook visited China about a month ago to meet with senior Chinese officials.

But while Apple’s decision to cancel Stewart’s show may have appeased some officials in China, it also managed to attract the attention of Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi, who wrote to Cook outlining their concerns “about indirect Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence over the creative expression of American artists and companies on CCP-related topics.” The duo also write that they “encourage Apple to accelerate its efforts to reduce its dependence on the PRC in its core business.”

Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi write:

“The strategic competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party is not just about military, economic, or even technological power; it’s also about values. And few values distinguish our system from the CCP more sharply than the responsible and open exchange of ideas through creative expression, without the improper interference of foreign powers…

“If Jon Stewart can potentially be impeded from offering commentary on the CCP, what does this mean for less prominent personalities? While there is a chance that a high-profile individual like Jon Stewart can locate another streaming service where he can express his views on PRC-related matters, an aspiring comedian who wants to use satire to make broader points about human rights and authoritarianism faces even bleaker prospects.” 

The Members asked Apple to provide a briefing to committee staff “to better understand the recent news reports regarding Mr. Stewart’s show.” They also asked for “a commitment that content that could be perceived as critical of the CCP or the [People’s Republic of China] is welcome on Apple TV+ and other Apple services, despite the coercive pressure of the CCP.”

The main issue for Apple, the Members rightly note, is that it appears the company needs China to maintain its business. That gives the CCP power over the U.S. headquartered company — and is a big reason why the United States needs to “urgently work to diversify its supply chains and reduce overall technological dependencies on the PRC that provide the CCP with such significant economic leverage.”

“The CCP has a long track record of retaliating against companies that fail to walk the Party’s line, and we understand the importance of the PRC as a market and manufacturing hub for Apple, a company that has made significant contributions to American innovation and technological leadership,” the duo write, later adding: “In the case of Apple, as evidenced by your recent trip to Beijing, it appears maintaining a positive relationship with the CCP may be a priority given ongoing supply chain and financial dependencies.”