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John Stewart’s recent jokes involving 2012 Republic presidential hopeful Herman Cain have been the subject of much discussion on both Stewart’s “Daily Show” and Fox News. Stewart’s jibes were aimed at Cain’s comments regarding the length of legislation. Said Cain:
Don’t try to pass a 2,700-page bill. You and I didn’t have time to read it. We are too busy trying to live, send our kids to school. That’s why I’m going to only allow small bills, three pages. You will have time to read that one over the dinner table.
Though Cain’s proposal may be extreme (and his “three pages” limit was a joke), his points on the length and clarity of bills are well taken. Stewart’s jests, however amusing to his liberal audiences, illustrate the great double standard that has come to be in American broadcasting. Lampooning Cain in an “Amos and Andy” type dialogue, Stewart quipped:
Bills will be three pages. If I am president, treaties will have to fit on the back of a cereal box. From now on, the State of the Union address will be delivered in the form of a fortune cookie. I am Herman Cain, and I do not like to read.
Regardless of Stewart’s “shock jock” status and the “comedic” nature of his comments, the fact that a right-wing commentator would undoubtedly be slammed for racism for joking that a black political figure did not like to read is highly troubling. Pundits like Stewart have masqueraded under the guise of harmless comedy for long enough. They are, and should be treated like the rest of the media, Fox News included.
This raises another question all together; liberals have their choice when it comes to political satire, from The Colbert Report to The Onion to even Saturday Night Live, liberals seem are far more concerned with mocking the opposition than Conservatives.
Attempts have been made, like Fox’s short-lived The 1/2 Hour News Hour, but to no avail. In the popular media, no real Conservative humor outlet exists. Does this mean the Right can’t be funny? Certainly not, remember William F. Buckley’s interview with a drunken Jack Kerouac? But for whatever reason, joke-making seems low on the Right’s list of priorities.
It would seem that the unfortunate way in which media has evolved leaves the left more prone to humor, even bleeding into the legislature and “real politics,” with the election of liberal funnyman Al Franken to the Senate in 2009 and Colbert’s recent attempt to form a PAC. The closest thing Republicans have to a comedic outlet would have to be Rush Limbaugh, though perhaps providing as much material to the Left as to the Right.
This inequality is what makes statements like Stewart’s possible. Liberal political satirists can employ otherwise off-limits humor under the guise of comedy without fear of backlash, while Conservatives have no façade to hide behind when accused of racism by the left.
Programs like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show in particular always stress the fact that they aren’t “real news” in response to the Right’s frequent (and justifiable) cries of foul play. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism examined Stewart’s program, in an effort to determine what exactly the public gleans from it. Their study found that:
- The program’s clearest focus is politics, especially in Washington. U.S. foreign affairs, largely dominated by the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq, Washington politics and government accounted for nearly half (47%) of the time spent on the program. Overall, “The Daily Show” news agenda is quite close to those of cable news talk shows.
- The press itself is another significant focus on “The Daily Show.” In all, segments about the press and news media accounted for 8% of program time. That is more than double the amount of coverage of media in the mainstream press overall during the same period.
- Republicans in 2007 tended to bear the brunt of ridicule from Stewart and his crew. From July 1 through November 1, Stewart’s humor targeted Republicans more than three times as often as Democrats. The Bush administration alone was the focus of almost a quarter (22%) of the segments in this time period.
- The lineup of on-air guests was more evenly balanced by political party. But our subjective sense from viewing the segments is that Republicans faced harsher criticism during their interviews with Stewart. Whether this is because the show is simply liberal or because the Republicans control the White House is harder to pin down.
A comprehensive report by the Media Research Center examines liberal bias on a media-wide level:
- Journalists Vote for Liberals: Between 1964 and 2004, Republicans won the White House seven times compared with four Democratic victories. But if only journalists’ ballots were counted, the Democrats would have won every time.
- Journalists Reject Conservative Positions: None of the surveys have found that news organizations are populated by independent thinkers who mix liberal and conservative positions. Most journalists offer reflexively liberal answers to practically every question a pollster can imagine
- The Public Recognizes the Bias: Nearly nine out of ten Americans believe journalists sometimes or often let their personal views influence the way they report the news, and most say this bias helps liberals. Even a plurality of Democrats agree the press is liberal.
- Journalists Say They Are Liberal: Surveys from 1978 to 2005 show that journalists are far more likely to say they are liberal than conservative, and are far more liberal than the public at large.
(It should be noted that the Media Research Center has a conservative bias; its president, Brent Bozell, is the nephew of the late William F. Buckley Jr.)
Nonetheless, facts are facts, and the numbers don’t lie. Such figures should serve as a wakeup call, not only to members of the right looking for equal treatment, but to all Americans who want to be presented with both sides of the story each time they turn on the television or open up a newspaper.
Colbert and Stewart have every right to approach their shows humorously, but need to be subjected to the same oversight and criticism that the rest of the media is (or rather, the Conservative media is). Incidents like the affront to Herman Cain should be treated with equal contempt throughout the industry.