News That Fact Checks

So, a friend of mine posted this video by Keith Olbermann:

“How the Media Needs to Respond to Trump Now | The Resistance with Keith Olbermann | GQ”

The video itself is interesting for a number of reasons, but I want to talk about their reaction to it.

They mentioned that they would greatly prefer to have their news fact-checked. I replied that this was already happening, just on comedy shows, that Jon Stewart started it[0], but now Trevor Noah, Rachel Maddow, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert do.

(Note that this is already starting to seep into ‘real news channels’ with Rachel Maddow and similar.)

But this got me thinking. Why is it that comedy shows can do this and ‘news’ cannot? Why did this start in comedy shows?

One could argue that the stock in trade of comedy is juxtaposition. Juxtaposition of people saying one thing and doing another, or even saying one thing and then saying the exact opposite lends itself very naturally to comedy based on political commentary.

Perhaps because comedy is built on using blunt verbal implements[1] to provoke an audience reaction, provoking audience reactions being their stock in trade. ‘News’ is not about provoking reactions, at least not as their primary goal[2].

Perhaps this blunt type of juxtaposition needed to be started on or as a comedy show, as news shows are used to being much more polite[3].

Perhaps, as Keith Olbermann suggests, the repeal of the ‘Fairness Doctrine‘ is related to all of this, where news organizations are still behaving as if the outside world is still trying to be fair, and that they can cover ‘both’ sides of an issue without checking too hard whether one of them is propaganda.

Perhaps it has to do with fact checking, perhaps it has to do with the proliferation of news coverage of politicians allowing greater opportunities for juxtaposition, perhaps it has to do with news organizations being afraid to offend their advertisers vs. comedy shows being afraid of not offending enough and thereby not getting enough attention…

Perhaps, just as only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only news comedy could start the juxtaposition fact checking.

[0]Some people say that this was started with SNL’s ‘Weekend Update‘ in 1985. I would argue that there are definite influences, but Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show’ took itself far more seriously, closer to how news shows take themselves seriously. An example from the Chevy Chase Show in 1993, 6 years before Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show (and 3 years before the Daily Show existed at all):

[1]Many comedians starting out will say offensive things to get attention (or for worse reasons). I’m talking about less verbally offensive methods of getting attention.

[2]I’m not sure what the primary motivation of news is. Perhaps to inform, perhaps to legitimize an otherwise illegitimate TV network, perhaps to sell advertising. I’d say on their best days, their primary motivation is to inform.


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