I pose this question for our blog b/c in many ways, though it makes us laugh and it has good reporting, it can also blur the lines between fiction and reality. First, let’s talk about the Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
Jon Stewart joined the Daily Show around 1999 or so and the show became a huge topical news hit when deadpan reporter Steve Carell (the same Steve Carell from 40 Year-Old Virgin, Dan in Real Life and Horton Hears a Hoo) got onto John McCain’s campaign bus called the Straight Talk Express and asked such goofy questions that seemed so real “that McCain didn’t know if [Carell] was joking or serious.” 1
Since then, The Daily Show has become the “pit stop” for politicians looking to get re-elected or people (including politicians) looking to pimp their new books. Even the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, one of America’s most important allies in the war on terror appeared on the show last year (2007). When politicians appear on the show, they know they might get mocked, yet they play along with Stewart’s schtik anyway.
Sometimes, these appearances don’t always go positively or they come too late to matter. In 1996, Senator Bob Dole went on the Late Show w/ David Letterman after he lost the election to Bill Clinton. Dole’s quick wit was such a huge hit that many voters wrote to him wishing that they had voted for him earlier. In the 2004 election, President Bush (“came off horribly wooden”) and Senator John Kerry (who rode a Harley onto Leno’s set) both flopped. 1
But, with all of these politicians playing along with the jokes and even being in on some of the gags, sometimes, a viewer might not know where the reality ends and the satire begins. Jon Stewart’s interviews are sometimes better than the ones that the professionals do. In 2000, The Daily Show won a Peabody Award for its coverage of the Bush / Gore campaign – an award that goes to people in the journalism field. And what about the Colbert Report? Stephen Colbert breaks his wrist and believes that “anything he cares about is important enough to talk about every day.” He wanted people to wear “Wrist-Strong” bracelets for wrist-awareness. 2 How much different is this silliness than Glenn Beck, MSNBC’s pundit, talking about his hemorrhoid surgery and the difficulty he had with it on TV? 3
So when we can’t tell the news from the comedy, when we can’t figure out the truth from fiction, how can we make informed decisions? How can we vote for the right candidates? Does all of this confusion mean that American democracy has become a joke? Or is it that the media isn’t doing its job b/c it is too busy following the government or corporate storyline?
The question: Is fake news good for America? Why or why not? Consider the discussion and the questions above before writing your answer (150 words minimum).
1. Peyser, Marc. “Red, White and Funny: The new year will bring a host of intriguing faces front and center. Politicians. Actors. Tycoons. Educators. And one fake news anchor, bravely battling pomposity and misinformation. Jon Stewart prepares for Campaign 2004.” Newsweek. Dec. 29, 2003. P. 70.
2. Weinman, Jaime. “The Secret Agenda of the Colbert Report: in two years, he’s turned a “Daily Show” spin-off into a wacky sitcom.” Maclean’s. Oct. 22, 2007. P. 57.
3. The Drudge Report. http://www.drudge.com/news/102972/glenn-becks-eye-opening-hemorrhoid-surgery . Accessed 3/29/08.