Why Trump? Ask The Daily Show

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 3.35.16 PMMedia scholar Jay Rosen wrote last week of reasons the press is befuddled by Donald Trump’s ascendance even as they call out his bombastic inaccuracies.

Rosen writes that the political press has a weak sense of purpose, suffers “institutional isomorphism” — a sameness across the board — and purports to compete while having “shared assumptions” of what they should and shouldn’t do.

Let me posit another reason Trump is emerging unscathed: The Daily Show. Like SNL, Colbert and John Oliver, Jon Stewart and team turned light on the blind spots of news programming, making “fake” coverage that often hit truths the “real” news shows eschewed.

Stewart was not afraid to show his sense of purpose while his correspondents called out absurdities in the subjects they covered. Stewart would ask politicians, entertainers and authors startlingly pithy questions that “serious” — Jay may prefer “humorless”— reporters are loathe to pose.

The Daily Show mimicked superficial news conventions, the grammar of TV news, while the taking piss out of people who lacked humility and hewed to false objectivity.

“Trump may not be telling the truth, but he’s sure as hell telling their truth,” Rosen quotes Politico’s Glenn Thrush as saying* of the business mogul’s fans. So, too, for The Daily Show. They, to paraphrase Jay’s words, told “people what’s going on … without illusions.”

Twelve percent of Americans said they got their news from the show, “on par” with USA Today and The Huffington Post, the Pew Research Center found.

And it’s into that world, in which the comedic can be more truthful than the real, and “serious” journalists become discounted, that Trump and his ilk can thrive.


* Corrects earlier version of attribution.