“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” aired its controversial segment Thursday night pitting Washington Redskins fans against Native Americans over the team’s name.
But the program showed hardly any of the heated footage of the taped confrontation between the two sides, with Stewart opening the segment alluding to public complaints from Redskins fans about being misled by the show, and preparing viewers to expect an edited version of the piece.
“We learned later that some of the individuals who participated in the piece, they didn’t enjoy the experience. It’s something that happens a lot less than you would think,” Stewart said in an unusual, apologetic preamble to a segment featuring correspondent Jason Jones. “But we take the complaint seriously. We generally don’t want people who participate in the show to have a bad experience. We work very hard to find real people who have real beliefs and want to express those beliefs on television, and we work hard to make sure that the gist of those beliefs are represented accurately, albeit sometimes comedically on our program.
“If we find out that someone in a piece was intentionally misled or if their comments were intentionally misrepresented, we do not air that piece. We would not air that piece. So that being said, I hope you enjoy the following piece.”
The segment showed Jones interviewing the Native American critics of the name in one room and the Redskins fans in another. At one point, Jones attended a recent tailgate at FedEx Field and then he concluded the piece by showing a few seconds of the fans being confronted by the Native Americans, in which the two sides are briefly seen shaking hands.
This was Comedy Central’s second night making fun of the Redskins name, which has come under relentless attack as disparaging to Native Americans. On Wednesday night, an entire episode of “South Park” was devoted to skewering the Redskins name, team owner Daniel Snyder, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL owners.
Since The Washington Post first reported last weekend about the surprise encounter — it left one Redskins fan so distraught that she left in tears and called police two days later alleging she’d been forced into a threatening environment — anticipation of the segment swelled on Twitter. The fans and Native Americans were initially told that the segment would air last week and then on Tuesday before it finally aired Thursday night — at the same time Washington was playing the New York Giants.
The Redskins fans were Kelli O’Dell, a former teacher who lives in Alexandria and writes about the team for an NFL fan site; Maurice Hawkins, 43, a sales consultant from Hampton Roads, Va.; Brian Dortch, who runs a home-repair business in Dinwiddie, Va.; and Charles Barr, 36, an office adminstrator for a heating and air conditioning company in Petersburg, Va., who also runs a Redskins blog. Barr sported a giant Redskins belt that looks like the kind worn by professional wrestlers.
The Native Americans who confronted the fans featured a mix of activists and comedians, including Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the case that has put the Redskins’ trademark protections in jeopardy; Bobby Wilson, 29, of Phoenix, a member of the comedy group The 1491s; and Tara Houska, an Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation who lives in the District and works for the grass-roots group Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry.
Thursday night’s piece opened with a clip of Snyder claiming that “Redskins” symbolizes honor, but then segued to the group of Native Americans who quickly debunked that idea, saying among other things, it was a dictionary-defined slur.
“Redskin is a bounty,” said Ryan RedCorn, a 1491 member.
Houska, an associate at a local law firm, said: “Do you know what it’s like to be a native in this town? To walk down the street every single day and be surrounded by that imagery and being told to get over it?”
Jones began stuttering his next comments, so RedCorn began mocking him.
“Just because I am uncomfortable doesn’t mean you have to make fun of my uncomfortableness,” Jones deadpanned. “You don’t see me doing that to people.”
Then Jones tried poking fun at Redskins fans.
“Sure these Native American activists make a compelling case,” Jones narrated. “That is until you hear what’s at stake for the true vicims ... the fans.”
The piece then showed the group of fans, with Hawkins first saying: “If the Redskins name is changed and I have children one day what will I pass onto them?”
What really needs to happen, said O’Dell, is a conversation between fans and “the people that actually are offended.”
Then Jones quipped in his narrator’s voice: “But it turns out these fans weren’t comfortable having that conversation. In fact afterward they relayed to The Washington Post that they felt ambushed, in danger and defamed. And yes the conversion was heated at times but there was also handshakes and a even a ceremonial handkerchief.”
(It was O’Dell who had told the Post she had called the police because she felt the confrontation was so hostile.)
By the end of the piece, Jones asked the fans: Would they still root for the team if the name was changed? Two of them were shown on air saying they still would.
Even before it aired, the segment became newsworthy and the subject of an unusual debate about the ethics of a comedy news show.
Some people felt no sympathy for the Redskins fans because “The Daily Show” is a comedy program and notorious for making its interview subjects look foolish and bigoted. A number of Native Americans, including those who appeared on the show, argue that they are the real victims of a team name that disparages them.
The blog Native Appropriations — a self-described forum for discussing “representations of Native peoples” — dissected The Post’s original piece by asking: “So, you’re the Washington Post, how do you frame this story? By attempting to make us feel bad for the poor Racial Slurs fans who were ‘ambushed’ and ‘threatened,’ of course.” The blog is written by Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a postdoctoral fellow at Brown in Native American Studies.
But others, including some opposed to the team name, said “The Daily Show” had acted unfairly by misleading the fans. They were assured in advance that they wouldn’t have to debate Native American critics face to face. Megan McCardle, a Bloomberg View columnist who believes the word “Redskins” is an epithet, said: “It’s unacceptable to lie to interview subjects — especially members of the public, who probably do not have PR flacks and image consultants to assist them.”
After The Post’s report about the taping went online, some Redskins fans who had been approached by the show as potential interview subjects said they were relieved they did not go on. Peggy Rapier, 43, who lives in Dallas and counts herself a Redskins fan, said she turned the show down because she’s familiar with its tendency to make its guests look bad.
“Goodness, ‘The Daily Show’ has been known to make fun of their guests, and Jon Stewart has given the impression that he’s on the side of people who want to change the name,” said Rapier, who said she wasn’t the only fan who rejected the show’s producers. “We felt like we’d be at a double disadvantage, especially because you’re also with someone extremely sharp. I saw visions of [the show] shredding us on national television.”