Over the past two and a half decades, The Daily Show on Comedy Central has arguably helped change the news landscape in America. Whether that's a good or bad thing is a question we discuss on today's BradCast with the show's co-creator and original head writer, as the seminal fake news shows recently turned 25 years old! [Audio link to full show is posted at end of this summary.]
But, first up, some quick news headlines on what appears to be a freshly booming economy, as the nation tries to climb out of its pandemic recession. That otherwise good news, unfortunately, is somewhat tempered by uncertainty as the Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, mostly among the unvaccinated. New economic data this week also reveals that states with low vaccination and high infection rates are having a much harder time returning to pre-pandemic economic and job levels.
Also today, the Biden Administration announces one "final" extension of the moratorium on federal student loan payments, through the end of January next year. That, as Congressional Democrats from across the political spectrum, from Chuck Schumer to Elizabeth Warren to Ayanna Pressley, continue to push the President to simply cancel most of the $1.7 trillion dollars in federal student debt that would otherwise be spent by former students on the economy, buying homes, having children, etc.
Then, this past week, Comedy Central's beloved, long-running The Daily Show celebrated its 25th year on basic cable! How did they celebrate? By not being on the air at all, as the show's current host, Trevor Noah, after more than a year broadcasting the temporarily re-dubbed The Daily Social Distancing Show from his New York apartment, is enjoying a much-needed summer vacation until late September.
But that doesn't stop us from celebrating anyway! We're joined today by the always-delightful LIZZ WINSTEAD, co-creator, with Madeleine Smithberg, and former head writer of the satirical "news" show, to discuss its origin story and its broad affect on the national news-scape over the ensuing decades since its 1996 premier, as originally hosted by Craig Kilborn, followed by Jon Stewart, and now Noah.
From the shockingly easy way she and Smithberg were able to get the show on the air back in 1996, to its first bizarre week (before they had a live audience --- which I saw and loved and she hated!), to its various hosts over the years, thoughts on the bevy of stars who broke out from the show but never ended up hosting it, to how it has changed both the audience for news and the theoretically non-fake news outlets themselves, we take a much-needed pause today from another rough week to look back on the awesome satirical damage that Winstead has helped wrought.
"When people want to ask me about those origins," Winstead explains, "I think it's important, because a lot of people don't know that two women created the show, and they don't understand where it came from and how it came to be."
"When we launched, and this is important, there was only CNN," she says, citing how much of the show's early satire was to be aimed at local news and the many so-called "news magazine" that proliferated at the time. "MSNBC launched a couple of weeks after us, and then Fox launched that same year in October. An explosion of 24-hour news and how they had to keep up. And they did it poorly. I guess what I never counted on was that they would be so bad at their job that it would make us have so much to work with, follow the trends, and then throw those trends back in their faces."
"The satire and the fun really comes from not just throwing it back in their faces, but --- also adding to the comedy --- what are the results of all of this? You create a dumber electorate. You create an idiocracy. And we've seen that play out."
If so, it's hardly The Daily's fault. Winstead also responds to the critique, as some have argued, that too many young people ended up getting more of their news from The Daily Show than from real news sources. She rejects that notion, and tells me why.
Winstead, the Minneapolis native, who later went on to serve as Program Director of the now-defunct Air America Radio, where she also served as morning co-host with some lady named Rachel Maddow, also reflects on how topics and field pieces were chosen by The Daily's "correspondents" (a countless number of whom have moved on to their own wildly successful shows and movie careers.)
For so long, Americans were under the notion that we should "just ignore people who are lying, mean, or wrong or dumb," but that's "kind of why we are in this mess" now, she argues. "One of the things that 'Daily Show' tried to do constantly was say, 'Do not underestimate the stupidity of people, and do not underestimate the danger of that stupidity!' I think [the country] did, for years, and we are literally in the space we are now because we thought we could just close our eyes and ignore it, and it would go away."
Please tune in for much more from our conversation, including Winstead's thoughts and concerns on what has become her central focus now, even as she continues her work as a stand-up comedian, to help raise awareness and concern and action for her reproductive rights organization, Abortion Access Front. She founded the non-profit in 2015 and it is now, as she explains, facing the fight of all of our lives...
Finally, in our closing few minutes of the show today, we take the opportunity to respond to some listener mail, including from one listener who has a very good question about my oft-used reference to the importance of "independently verifiable" news and from another listener with some pretty serious "CRITICISM" of The BradCast...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)