In the just-released Daily Show oral history book there’s a chapter that breaks down Jon Stewart’s righteous and much-celebrated takedown of CNBC financial analyst Jim Cramer in March of 2009 amidst the kickoff of the great recession. Stewart and his crew were possessed with fire and anger and a need to hold Cramer and his ilk accountable; not for giving bad advice, but for seemingly shirking responsibility and denigrating those who took that advice. They were outraged and they wanted to say something about it.
Make no mistake, Stewart undermined Cramer’s credibility, but not in a way that was everlasting. As former Daily Show head writer Elliot Kalan acknowledged in the book, Cramer went back to work. He’s still there.
Remember, The Daily Show is an instigator for change, not an instrument of it. It takes the issues and the politicians and it sniffs out bullsh*t and presents its findings to its viewers in a powerful way. Whether that information brings a lasting result is more on us than on them, but it doesn’t seem like we’re able to stop treating politics as though it is, to borrow a phrase from Stewart during the Cramer interview, “a f*cking game.”
After watching new(ish) host Trevor Noah’s ascendant interview with Blaze pundit Tomi Lahren on The Daily Show I was impressed by the civil and calm debate that I had just witnessed. Then I went on Twitter.
We can sidestep a recitation of the insults because I don’t feel like typing that many asterisks and lets just assume that I wrote a couple hundred words praising Noah and Lahren for their own tweets, wherein they continued to treat each other with respect while also speaking to the destructive stock response that the interview generated in some circles. That was originally the plan when I started typing because that kind of thing is a rare and welcome sight to behold, but I can’t help but focus on the hyperbole. And because of that, this tweet strikes me as half-right and fully interesting.
The headlines heralding Noah’s decimation of Lahren are grossly overstated and completely worthless. It’s all in service to that “rah rah” team spirit thing where winning is the only thing that matters when people scream on cable even though we’re all losing a little bit each time we expose ourselves to it. Lahren is still standing and still content in her view of the world. In that respect, nothing changed.
With regard to the point about Lahren’s Daily Show appearance normalizing or humanizing her views, I partly agree. Hateful ideas have more power when they are presented in an easy conversational way by a congenial ambassador. But…
There is a difference between this late night viral moment and Jimmy Fallon tousling Donald Trump’s hair in terms of normalizing or humanizing such an ambassador of woeful ideas. There was no effort to sell Lahren as anything besides a passionate advocate for her point-of-view on The Daily Show. Now, was that point-of-view offensive? In certain bubbles, including my own, absolutely. But we can’t shield ourselves from opposing thoughts, especially when they are under direct scrutiny and when contrasting theories are on display beside them.
Scary as it may be, we all need to trust the process and let the audience look at the bare facts so they can decide who is right and what they think passes for human and normal.
The media isn’t nearly as effective a messenger as it thinks it is when it comes to monster-making and offering lectures of high grace and purpose on how we should all think and feel. Donald Trump was roundly criticized by the press from every angle and he still won. That doesn’t mean that the criticism was completely without merit, it more likely means people tuned out from the unrelenting sameness of the message (and the overall noise of the election) and went with their gut. Flooding the room with liberal bon mots will only widen the divide and push people into their own alt-right thinky safe spaces. People don’t need to dig in, they need to loosen up and hear each other speak.
Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren are imperfect role-models when it comes to the presentation of civility and the embrace of intellectual diversity because both often serve as royals within those ideological bubbles, but this brief twinkle of light in the dark sky is something to set our compasses to.
Let’s talk this sh*t out, America.
Jason Tabrys is the features editor for Uproxx. You can engage with him directly on Twitter.