Friday, January 26, 2018

Add Adam Conover to the list of replication bullies

[Spelling error corrected.]

Most people in the news media missed the joke when Jon Stewart took over the Daily Show, or, more accurately, saw a joke that wasn't there. It took them a while to realize that while Stewart, the cast, and the writers of the show were trying to be funny, they generally weren't kidding.

The Daily Show was in that sense a very serious response to the disastrous state of turn-of-the-millennium journalism. As bad as things are now, it is easy to forget how much worse they were in the period roughly defined by Whitewater, Bush V Gore, and build-up to the Iraq war. The best of the new voices, such as Josh Marshall, were just beginning to be heard. The New York Times was pretty much the same, but now its devotion to practices like false balance, blind adherence to conventional narratives, and Clinton derangement syndrome have grown increasingly controversial with the rest of the media with papers like the Washington Post aggressively pushing back. In 1999, the rest of the press corps was seeing who could be the most like the NYT rather than criticizing it.

When the true nature of Stewart's Daily Show finally began to dawn on people, there was considerable bad feeling among journalists, lots of grumbling that Stewart, Colbert, and the rest had forgotten their place. Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in particular hit a huge nerve. The people in that ball room were perhaps the last to realize that the satirical bits were driven by genuine contempt for a profession that had gone to hell.

Stewart and Colbert focused on press criticism because it was a ripe target for satire but also because it was something that needed to be done (God knows hacks like David Carr and Jack Shafer were not up to the job). The next generation, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and in his new role, Stephen Colbert have shifted more toward news presented with a satirical bent once again filling in gaps left by conventional journalism.

Go forward another iteration (and another literal generation) and you get Cracked and College Humor who have taken those same basic instincts and applied them to less topical subjects, often focusing more on education than news.

One common thread that runs through all of the shows over the past almost 20 years is a reaction against the polite toleration of bullshit that it come to dominate mainstream journalism. It is worth noting that Adam Conover squarely placed himself in the pro-replication camp and has made citing sources and acknowledging errors a prominent part of Adam Ruins Everything.

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