Satirical News: more important than ever in today’s political culture
March 1, 2017
Filed under Opinion
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Nearly everyone has heard of them. From Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver, to the (underrated) Daily Show newbie Trevor Noah, or the ever-angry Bill Maher, there has never been a better time in American history for satirical news programs. Of course, they’re incredibly non-objective. Each one leans so far left, they might as well be protesting marijuana laws at a tree-hugging convention. And in the era of the ever-persistent threat of “Fake News,” bias is something one would tend to (reasonably) want to avoid when choosing how they consume their information. So what makes unabashedly biased shows such as Last Week Tonight and Bill Maher’s Real Time so relevant (and informative) in a world where biased news is the last thing that a free-thinking human would want to consume?
In a word, truth.
John Oliver constantly denies he is a “journalist” of any form. He hosts a weekly satirical news show, Last Week Tonight, in which he chooses one specific topic, such as issues within the journalism industry, or a scandal in the FIFA organization, and delivers a biting criticism of it. Despite the fact that he goes incredibly in-depth into his stories, using heavy amounts of research and basing nearly all of his arguments on facts, he won’t call himself a journalist.
“I’ve never felt like a journalist — I’ve dressed like one… No, I feel like a comedian. A journalist has to be entirely credible and fact-based — I choose to be,” said Oliver to The National Post in 2015.
I would argue that by making that choice, John Oliver is a journalist, albeit a biased (and incredibly funny) one. I would argue that this makes John Stewart and Trevor Noah journalists as well, but neither of them quite to the level Oliver has reached.
This is where truth comes back into the equation. As mentioned before, Oliver displays a clear bias in every single one of his episodes, this does not dilute the facts behind what he is presenting. Every segment is well-researched and meticulously planned, citing numerous studies, and even taking video footage from certain situations (a song from one of Oliver’s latest segments, concerning Vladimir Putin, comes to mind) to argue his point. If Oliver was up there spewing nonsense with no support, he would be nothing more than an angry, British comedian, one who would probably sound too preachy. But that’s not what he is. Just weeks ago, Oliver gave a damning expose’ on Putin, his problems, and why he is someone America (read: its president) shouldn’t be cozying up to. One of his main points is that Putin’s critics consistently turn up dead, citing a number of Russian detractors who ended up poisoned, or killed in some other fashion. This is the brilliancy of Oliver and other satirical news. No matter how many ridiculous jokes they make about Trump’s vocabulary or a number of other subjects, those jokes don’t change the truth and statistics that these men are bringing up in their segments.
On another hand, we see Bill Maher continuing his long-running show Real Time on HBO, which airs slightly closer to a traditional talk show– he has guests on every episode who he interviews one-on-one, something Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show include much less frequently. He also includes a short segment in every episode where he lists off noteworthy events with comedic punchlines at the end, which imitates Tonight and Daily Show more closely. If you ask me, it’s not his strongest suit. Neither are his interviews. What sets Bill Maher apart from the pack is his panel, which includes three guests, who switch around on every show. Here, the free-speech loving Maher invites people of all shades, Republican, Democrat, male, female, gay, straight, you name it, and it is here we see a type of political discourse that is much needed in today’s America. It’s (typically) intelligent groups of people with differing opinions sitting at a table and discussing today’s issues, though it is often in a playfully charged and rather profane manner. In other words, his guests are what make his show important.
In the last month alone, Maher, who is loudly and proudly liberal, has invited Tomi Lahren, the host of her own conservative online talk show, Milo Yiannopoulos, former Breitbart News Editor (who has also been the face of the Alt-Right movement), and Representative Jack Kingston, a conservative from Texas, on his panels. He even interviewed Yiannopoulos one-on-one (though I strongly disagreed with the way he conducted the interview and the way he treated Yiannopoulos– throwing softball questions at someone as divisive as him is just poor journalism). There is simply no other place on television, or on news channels, that you are going to get this level of diversity in discussion. That diversity creates electrifying debates, ones that make the audiences at home truly think about the issues. Even if you’re disgusted by one side, you still have to consider it, and that is the brilliance in Maher’s show. There is an honesty to the whole affair, the same type of honesty that Oliver shows in his program.
In essence, whether one agrees with their barbs or not, the bias of political comedians such as Oliver and Maher does not negate the things they report. Willfully admitting your bias gives you a larger degree of freedom, and these people have put it to good use, “choosing” to sniff out the truth, even when nobody asked them to.