Six months ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote a fantastic article criticizing the drawn out, banal, and superficial nature of Presidential campaign coverage. However, Greenwald overlooked one unintended benefit of the the awful journalism we’re subjected to during this very special period.
As politicians desperately pander to tabloid-style journalists eager to write personality pieces, and as media outlets scramble to provide us with horse-race-style coverage on who’s ahead in the latest polls, a golden opportunity for political satire and media criticism emerges.
Stephen Colbert and John Stewart have seized this opportunity. In doing so, they’ve made the unbearable campaign season bearable, even enjoyable.
Colbert has aptly spent the past nine months ridiculing the rise of the super PAC. Super PAC’s are heavily financed, privately organized independent groups designed to exert influence on political campaigns and the passing of legislation. Super PAC’s are a byproduct of two recent court cases against the Federal Election Commission, Citizens United vs. FEC and Speechnow.org vs. FEC.
Colbert formed a super PAC “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” and, with some help from Stewart, used it to support his own campaign and the suspended campaign of Herman Cain. Colbert’s Super PAC was able to raise over $1 million dollars and run absurd attack ads.
Colbert essentially summed up his campaign criticism by saying, “The way I see it, the Supreme Court said that money is speech ... Now I've taken that speech.”
Unlike Colbert, Stewart has not criticized the campaign process by utilizing a grand story-arch. Like any other news program, Stewart’s Daily Show is driven by current events. That’s not to say that his show lacks consistency.
Campaign season on The Daily Show has been marked by a barrage of astute swipes at major media outlets. To be fair, Stewart does report on many of the same scandals and minor gaffes that much of the rest of the news media covers. However, he manages to distinguish himself from much of the crowd by subtly acknowledging the triviality of these sorts of stories.
For instance, when Herman Cain uttered lines from the Pokémon movie, Stewart didn’t pretend to have a newsworthy story on his hands. Stewart made it clear that he was simply granted an easy gag. He left viewers with the following takeaway: Candidates as preposterous as Herman Cain make political comedy easy.
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