Comedy as Journalism, and Journalism as Comedy

Yesterday, we talked about the story of WFAA’s Dale Hansen bashing the Cowboys’ signing of convicted accused girlfriend-beater Greg Hardy. We discussed whether local news was the right platform for a “commentary” segment, whether Hansen was fanning the flames by saying fathers would “shoot Hardy’s ass through the glass,” and whether that was the best way to get his point across.

In our discussion, I challeneged reporters to take their anger about emotional stories and channel it into their reporting. Use your emotions as motivators to find facts, dig deeper, and ask tough questions.

Well last night, Jon Stewart and the crew of the Daily Show dropped this.

A couple caveats up front: Jon Stewart has obviously been highly critical of Fox News in the past, and he himself is not a journalist (people tend to forget that it’s a comedy show, for God’s sake). Stewart knows his audience and knows how to get a laugh.

Now, that being said … damn.

That was one of the best examples of fact-finding I have seen in a long time. Stewart and co. did exhaustive research, going back two years and digging through likely thousands of pages of reports to gather those facts and compile those soundbites. Then – the master stroke – they used Fox News’ own soundbites against them. They used the facts to obliterate the preconceived narrative.

Yes, it is a comedy show, and we all laugh at the jokes. But take the jokes away, and the hard work and fact-finding remain. That’s what has always made The Daily Show (and others like The Colbert Report and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight) so successful: the ability to go out and gather and package information.

They are doing the work of dozens of journalists. And it’s a comedy show.

It’s “investigative comedy,” as Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, told the Huffington Post.

News reporters could learn a thing or two about that kind of dedication and work ethic.

TV is often so concerned with arbitrary rules – a story must have at least two sources, a package can’t exceed 90 seconds, get the rebuttal from the “other side” – that sometimes it fails to acknowledge the most important and relevant rule: the facts are the facts.

So much of TV news, both on air and online, has become white noise, because the facts get drowned out by debate, discussion, analysis, and branding. We need the scientist who doesn’t believe in climate change! We need a roundtable with a Ku Klux Klan member! Things like this – that’s the real joke.

Sometimes you just need to gather the facts and report them.

Whether you like Fox News or not, whether you agree with the motivations of The Daily Show or not, the diligence and journalism showed by its staffers is incredible. When a comedy show’s methods are the gold standard, it’s time for journalists to step up.

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