I’m a skeptical guy and, frankly, being a skeptical guy in the age of unlimited “information” can be extremely tough. Day after day, all day long, I feel like I’m bombarded with statistics—statistics that seem to contradict each other and statistics that are thrown out without a source.
“A poll I read showed Donald Trump would cream Hillary in the general election,” one friend will say.
“Yeah, well the one I saw said Hillary would have the election by a landslide,” someone across the table will counter.
Maybe it’s just my friends (I highly doubt it’s just them), but no one seems to care to offer a source to accompany these types of claims. They either tell the table I’m sitting at what they want to hear or read from some random post that popped up on Facebook. Like I said, hearing these arguments every day can be wearing to a skeptical person.
That’s why I always loved watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. When I started taking an interest (albeit a superficial interest at first) in national politics, they seemed to be the first voices I heard that cut through a lot of bulls—t. Especially with Stewart, a lot of the claims that he made over the years had their sources on-screen when he cited them, and I appreciated that transparency a lot.
Stewart also made the point to correct himself whenever he made a mistake. After stating in a segment on police brutality that a black man had been shot by the San Bernardino County PD, Stewart issued a correction and apology the next week on his program.
In a heated debate with FOX News’ Chris Wallace, Stewart asked Wallace, “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart let the tense air sit for a moment, and then went in for the close. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.” Stewart was corrected by politifact.com for his comment, apologized to his viewers, then went on to show that FOX News consistently holds one of the most consistently misinformed viewerships on cable television.
It’s this sort of integrity that has always drawn me to Jon Stewart and his disciples ( Colbert, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cable news program issue a correction or apology for a false statement, yet those programs spend all day commentating on whatever they consider news. I’ve always sympathized with satirical news programs’ bewilderment over the 24-hour news cycle and I’ve found a solace in these hosts’ company and wisdom over the past few years.
But, there is one facade I feel these late-night political crusaders need to cast away—being comedians. I’m not saying that hosts like Bill Maher and Bee should stop being funny. I’m saying that they need to stop saying they’re comedians.
Discussing why his program could talk about the controversy surrounding Donald Trump and Ted Cruz’s wives and why MSNBC, CNN, and FOX shouldn’t touch this topic, Maher stated, “They’re news networks. [Real Time] is an entertainment program.” In that interview with Wallace, Stewart made it clear that he felt that, “[he’s] not an activist, [he’s] a comedian.” Even John Oliver, in his popular segment on Trump, made the point that he assumed few people cared about his show.
I’m not sure to what degree Stewart, Maher, and Oliver actually feel this way. They must see their ratings. They must constantly hear about the impact they’re having on their viewers. So why do they make these points that limit their credibility as political commentators?
These three hosts have been the main voices I’ve listened to in political conversations. Maher, Stewart, and Oliver all have separate opinions, but they have all made an effort to hold the credibility of their programs to a very high standard. Even if Stewart has left his desk at Comedy Central, he’s still one of the standard bearers of American political satire. Even now, he has the chance to be a leading voice in the national political discussion. Whether they agreed with him or not, political commentators across the board were fascinated with Stewart’s program and his thoughts. They recognized, even if he didn’t want to, that Stewart was a major player in American politics with a very loud microphone that rang across the country.
Speaking on the politifact.com correction he made, Stewart stated, “I defer to their judgment and apologize for my mistake. To not do so would be irresponsible. … That would undermine the very integrity and credibility that I work so hard to pretend to care about.”
It’s obvious that Stewart did care. Otherwise, he wouldn’t spend segments of his program correcting his mistakes. Late-night political hosts need to acknowledge that, although they want to maintain the semi-lighthearted nature of their programs, they are major players in a national conversation. I’m tired of hearing my heroes dismiss themselves.
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