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How Do We Clean Up Political Discourse?

2008.December.11

Well, we start by whittling down the pundits. OK, so it’s going to take more of a sea change than one radio program ending, but you have to admit that whatever “truth” lies in pundits’ claims that they answer the call of an audience, their influence has become self-fulfilling. The formula is simply this: be a white male blowhard who claims everyone agrees with him, get TV or radio show (preferably both) with which to saturate the nation, and after a few months (if that) you have acquired a dedicated audience that is ready to agree with anything you say. (Example 1)(Example 2)(Example 3)

So where are we supposed to get our news interviews? Those stuffy PBS-types? Maybe, but it seems to me there is room in the market for news talk that doesn’t make you hate everyone or put you to sleep.

Enter The Daily Show. I’m not suggesting it should replace the shows above (though it offers a helpful third leg*), or even because I believe it to be a consistent source of quality, unbiased news, but because its balance of humor, information, and parody sometimes stumbles into brilliance. There are some topics that Jon Stewart can approach and make interesting in ways that other news shows cannot; conversely, there are some serious topics that other humor programs can’t approach with any credibility. After nearly ten years on the show, Stewart has license to walk that line and can even get away with stepping into pundit territory, even as he skewers the real pundits for living there.

This week, Stewart hosted an interview with Mike Huckabee that sets a brilliant standard: an interview that can be serious yet fun, challenging yet informative, and divisive but respectful.

The link is to Part 2 of the interview, and the entire segment was devoted to Jon Stewart’s challenging Mike Huckabee about his stance on same-sex marriage. I have always believed that we gain more by talking to people with whom we disagree, face-to-face, than we do talking about them. Huckabee charmed many Daily Show and Colbert Report fans over the 2008 campaign who would not, otherwise, vote for the former governor, and I know that I and several other regular viewers were often caught off guard by Huckabee’s openness, humor, and empathy. But he’s a pretty conservative guy, right? How could he possibly have a heart?!

One wonders if Jon Stewart hasn’t been asking himself that very question and decided to confront it head-on.

I hope to have more on this soon, to analyze what was great about this interview (on both sides) and what we can learn from it, but for now I’ll just encourage you to watch it and leave me any observations you have.

*If you thought you detected a double-entendre there, then you would probably appreciate The Daily Show for its less political humor.

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