No matter your opinion of Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” — whether you feel it’s hilarious or cheeky; whether you feel it’s insightful or just self-righteous — give it this much: The Daily Show watches cable television as closely as anyone around. Otherwise, how on earth would it have picked up on the mantra of CNN news coverage that it skewered in last night’s program?
As Stewart exposed in an extended segment, CNN has a knack of asking guest commentators this question: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? John King has done it, Jake Tapper has done it and Wolf Blitzer, the coup de grace of any Daily Show sendup of CNN, has done it at least a couple of times. Railed Stewart: “The news networks are there to let you know that whether you look at an issue from the right or the left, those are the only two ways that you can look at it. Not anymore. Recently, CNN has moved beyond this simplistic, partisan worldview to a simplistiquier one.” Then he showed some clips of CNN talent caught using this either-or approach.
“The all-important U.S.-Russia summit over Syria isn’t ending when we expected it would. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” asked Tapper in a clip highlighted by “The Daily Show.” From another CNN voice: “Jodi Arias, on the witness stand for 18 straight days. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
Responded Stewart: “I don’t know — my guess is for 18 days, she didn’t get to kill anybody else. So I’m going to go with good thing?”
It’s all part of “reducing complex stories to the most reductive, mood-ring essence,” riffed Stewart.
So it is. Once again, the 24-7 nature of cable news blasts a glorious opening for satirists. Since CNN — indeed any cable network — has so much time to fill, it’ll inevitably develop tendencies that look terribly stupid when strung together in a highlight reel, something that “The Daily Show” does with punishing devastation. But as with many Stewart parodies, this one overreaches on one critical point, and that’s the Wolf Blitzer interview with Rep. Michele Bachmann over the various provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The host inventoried various provisions of the health-care reform act, asking Bachmann whether they were good or bad.
Stewart threw this example into his heap: “That’s Michelle ‘I-think-vaccines-give-you-brain-damage’ Bachmann being told by Wolf Blitzer to dumb it down,” argued Stewart.
Wrong. As with her claim that the HPV vaccine could have “very dangerous consequences,” Bachmann has proven adept at dodging questions and slipping her spin and innuendo into interviews. Posing such binary inquiries is the only way to handle such a wily character. Sometimes good-or-bad is good.