Scott Rubin, Editor-in-chief at National Lampoon, once told me that
perfect satire would be something an audience wouldn't know for sure to
be satire or serious. Sort of like talk radio. And even though you are
looking for the laugh, satire must deal honestly with the topic. Nothing
like talk radio.
With the presidential race bearing down for the stretch run Americans are
ready to chomp on political red meat. But today, where do you go to get
your political news served up fairly?
The networks? Rather, Brokaw, Jennings. Too liberal says Fox News.
Fox News? Hume, O'Reilly, Hannity. Too conservative says the networks.
Talk radio? Too many to list. Even Bill O'Reilly thinks talk radio is
full of deceit and he's on it.
CSPN? Too dull.
CNN? Too many N's
MSNBC? Hired Michael Savage.
CNBC? Miller and McInroe.
New York Times? Washington Times? Too liberal. Too conservative.
Opinion. Polarization. Spin. We're good. You're bad. Bias that only
reports the 50% of the reality that supports their truth...which is no
truth at all.
That's where satire steps in. A good satirist doesn't care about taking
sides. Only splitting them. Especially in respect to the most powerful
among us. That's why Dennis Miller's decision not to lay a hand on
President Bush lost him his membership card to the satire club.
Enter Jon Stewart. A fake news host. Funny and arguably the most
entertaining interviewer in politics, Stewart has become today's Walter
Cronkite. Actually not today's Walter Cronkite who has been painted as an
out of the closet myopic liberal. Stewart is 1974's Walter Cronkite. The
most trusted man in America. His "Daily Show" on the Comedy Channel is
the most consistently funny show on television. It also just might be the
most honest news show, fake OR real.
The United States of Audience has become divided in a way that would make
the Civil War jealous, yet the presumably liberal Stewart has captured
hearts from both sides of the political aisle. Perhaps that's because he
doesn't belittle his audience by dumbing down the material or feeding
them dogmatic pabulum. You get the idea the Stewart actually trusts his
audience to make their own decisions. No slogan. For real.
Stewart likes to dismiss his show as faux news, not to be taken
seriously. But when he does an interview, he knows how to ask a question,
like a couple weeks agowhen he asked John Kerry, "WERE YOU OR WERE YOU NOT
IN CAMBODIA?" More than a question, it was meant as a cut-to-the-chase
commentary on, and jab at, the previous month's ad hominem Swift Boat
attacks. Still, how many real newsman or pundits would give their eye
teeth to be able to say they asked that question with Kerry sitting in
front of them?
When Hannity poses a question to his guest, he does it with such a long
litany of points he wants to make, by the time he gets to the actual
question I'm surprised the interviewee remembers what it was. That's not
an interview, that's harassment.
Most talk show pundits, right and left, interrupt their guests when
they're not in sync with their view which turns off half the audience. A
satirist doesn't try to WIN the interview. A satirist digs into the very
part of a comment where the deception lives. And instead of ripping into
the person, he exposes the absurdity of the remark. Entertainingly.
Intelligently. Not with a hammer, but with a surgeon's scalpel. Even if
you disagree with the point, you have a hard time turning it off if while
Satire is criticism, but the humor used to challenge must be bathed in
truth, poking fun while at the same time, presenting honestly the inanity
of a situation. More critique than criticism, you hold up the words and
thoughts to the light so it becomes clear what is actually being said.
With a good satirist, the powerful don't get away with hollow
profundities or hypocritical talking points. And, that, ladies and
gentlemen, is entertainment.
It's fun (at least in a democracy) attacking the influential and their
institutions. You get to expose the pomposity and faults normally hidden
by lies and deceit. Jon Stewart is able to do just that while getting to
the heart of a politician's real character. He may only get one honest
piece of actual insight from an interview, but how many do we get in a
real news show?
So, is Stewart's faux news more real than supposedly real news? For his
commentary on the 2000 election, Stewart won a real Peabody Award. That's
something real newsguy Bill O'Reilly couldn't say and he still has yet to
make me laugh...on purpose. And who are you going to trust more with the
facts? Someone who makes you angry with his spin or someone who makes you
smarter with a laugh?