The Dearth Of Mockery: Bring Back Jon Stewart And The Old Stephen Colbert

As this election cycle careens wildly on a collision course with destiny, the measurable supply of sanity seems to get smaller by the day. The prospect of Donald Trump, a reality TV game show host, becoming the nominee of the Republican Party on the strength of his hate-speech and prideful ignorance is becoming ever more likely. At the same time, the media charged with holding candidates accountable to at least minimum standards of honesty and transparency is almost entirely absent. In the past there was a release valve available to let off steam as the politicians and the press drifted off into a vegetative state. That valve took the form of a healthy, cathartic supply of political satire by smart and talented observers who often did a better job of informing the public than the news professionals did.

Stephen Colbert & Trump Baby

Addressing this drought of comic relief, Jim Rutenburg of the New York Times wrote that Stephen Colbert and his production team have been meeting to shore up what has been a rocky first season of late night entertainment. He correctly observed that “If ever there was an election cycle that called for the sharp satirical analysis that Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert once provided on a nightly basis, it is this one,” and that they “are badly missed in the face of all the Trumpmania.”

As evidence of that vacuum, Rutenburg cited my article (thanks Jim) from last March: “Calling Jon Stewart: America Needs You Now More Than Ever.” The points made then are still relevant and deserving of reconsideration. To that end I am re-posting the article in its entirety below. It’s encouraging to see a mainstream news entity like the New York Times recognize that America is suffering a deficiency of rebellious ridicule, but unless the media steps up to restore its commitment to constructive mockery, miscreants like Donald Trump will thrive and prosper. Therefore…


Calling Jon Stewart: America Needs You Now More Than Ever.

Originally published March 9, 2016

When Jon Stewart left the Daily Show (TDS) he left a hole that is much bigger than his diminutive frame. TDS was a unique brand of entertainment that delivered more than humor. It was a daily session of cathartic therapy that provided a safe place to scream at the world through a video surrogate. It was a mocking rebuke of the madness that has infected contemporary politics and culture. It was an assault on the media from a rebel force that they couldn’t control.

Jon Stewart NBC News

TDS became so respected as a source for news that it was commonly included in polling to rate news providers despite being on a comedy network. And it generally rated quite well and higher than many of the allegedly serious news networks. That fact drove the media elitists wild with jealousy as they sought to ridicule the viewers as slackers (Bill O’Reilly added “stoned”), even though studies showed that the TDS audience was also better educated and informed than mainstream news viewers (including O’Reilly’s). Long-time TDS correspondent Stephen Colbert addressed this criticism saying that TDS viewers had to be knowledgeable about the news or they wouldn’t get the jokes.

With one of the most bizarre elections in history currently in progress, there is more material than ever for fierce mockery. The Trump candidacy is a Chinese joke factory – you know the kind that churns out gag-rich laughables 24/7 that sound like they were made by children. The cliche that “the jokes writes themselves” has been trotted out to describe the atmosphere, but talented professionals will still do a better job of it. And Trump isn’t the only source for freestyle farcicals in this election cycle. Ted Cruz is the first competitive presidential candidate to hail from the messianic wing of the Republican Party. And the opportunities missed by the now-defunct campaigns of Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, etc., can never be regained. The Democrats aren’t immune from mockery either, but I’ll leave that to all of the conservative comedians (oh wait, we still haven’t found any those, although Fox News is trying to desperately).

However, since Stewart stepped down from the fake anchor’s desk there has been an aching absence of the purgative satire that he mastered. His hand-picked successor at TDS, Trevor Noah, is an able comedian, but lacks the everyman relatability that endeared Stewart to his viewers. Larry Wilmore, who inherited the time slot of the Colbert Report, has been improving lately, but still falls short of his predecessors. And speaking of Colbert, his new role as himself on CBS’s Late Night doesn’t have the punch that his character did on Comedy Central. It doesn’t help that he is required to host celebrities and other product pluggers for most of the program.

There are some bright spots in the satire field. Most notable is John Oliver’s brilliant and hilarious long-form comedy on his HBO program. Seth Myers has transferred his SNL Weekend Update anchor routine pretty well to his Late Late Show’s “A Closer Look” segment. And former TDS correspondent Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” has gotten off to a promising start. But Oliver and Bee are only offering one show a week, which hardly fills the void.

What everyone seems to be missing is the fact that Stewart was not doing political satire. He was doing media satire. His targets were predominantly news outlets and the people that represent them. While politicians weren’t shy about publicly embarrassing themselves on a regular basis, it was more often the way that they were covered by the press that attracted Stewart’s attention. And Fox News, the most flagrantly dishonest purveyor of propaganda, was a frequent and well-deserved target. While some comics do go after Fox from time to time, nowhere is there the kind of relentless ridicule that Stewart unleashed on a regular basis. His consistent and high quality humor launched a popular meme proudly declaring that “I get my news from Comedy Central and my comedy from Fox News.”

Satire is a centuries-old form of communication that, at its best, is not only funny, but enlightening. And in the heat of this electoral season, where the front-runner of one of the major political parties is endorsed by the KKK and isn’t bothered by comparisons to Adolf Hitler, satire is an indispensable component to dealing with the insanity that appears to have taken over the GOP and much of right-wing America. The news pundits that provide the so-called informed commentary on current events are too insipidly timid to be useful. Even worse, they are too often oblivious to the truths that a good humorist can make so apparent.

That’s why we need Jon Stewart to return to the public discourse in some fashion. He can’t resume his post at TDS, but he could provide a daily commentary segment on the Rachel Maddow Show, or Colbert’s Late Night, or even NBC News. His insights would give relief to the millions of Americans who are being tortured by a media culture that is functionally blind. He would present a perspective that is altogether missing from the news, and now even from television comedy.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

It would be a major coup for whatever program or network was smart enough to reel Stewart in. And considering that there was once a ludicrous attempt to hire Stewart to host Meet the Press, this proposal makes much more sense and is actually plausible. C’mon, Jon – we need you. We need you continue to remind us that “Bullshit is everywhere […] and the best defense against bullshit is vigilance.”

Fox News Anchor Pitches ‘Fair And Balanced’ Nonsense To Stephen Colbert

There is a measure of self-delusion that infects the natives at Fox News and prevents them from making the most obvious appraisals of reality. What else could explain why, after twenty years of shoveling right-wing propaganda down the throats of American cable news viewers, the network’s anchors persist in pushing the absurdity that Fox engages in anything resembling journalism?

Fox News

The host of Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace, appeared on Late Night with Stephen Colbert last night (video below) and once again demonstrated an acute case of a personality disorder that obstructs him from recognizing the truth about himself and his job. Colbert asked him what ought to have been a simple question, but he was unable to answer accurately or honestly.

Colbert: Rightly or wrongly Fox News is generally perceived to be the Republican news network. I know Fox News Sunday is on Fox Broadcasting, but you’re also on Fox News Channel. Do you think it’s fair to call Fox News a conservative broadcasting network?
Wallace: No. Look, there are obviously, in prime time, there are some shows, the opinion shows — Hannity, O’Reilly — that are conservative, no question about it. But we think that there’s a firewall between the opinion shows and hard news.

Wallace is continuing to advance the fallacy that only a couple of shows in primetime have partisan agendas, and everything else is straight up, unbiased reporting. He actually uses the phrase “We commit journalism every day,” as if it were a crime. You have to wonder if he is just deliberately lying or if he has ever watched the network.

There are three hours every morning that are hosted by folks like Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, Tucker Carlson, Anna Kooiman, etc., who are rabidly right-wing and viciously anti-Democrat. They regularly feature such ultra-conservative guests as Andrew Napolitano, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, and Donald Trump had a scheduled Monday morning segment for several years.

That’s followed by Outnumbered, a program name meant to refer to the four female hosts who invite a single male guest. But it really refers to the whole panel generally being comprised of only conservatives (with an occasional pseudo-liberal punching bag). Then there is the Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, who was promoted to that slot from her prior seat on the Fox & Friends curvy couch. A little later in the day is Your World with Neil Cavuto. It would be interesting to see if Wallace thinks that Cavuto is a neutral journalist as he berates and interrupts his liberal guests and cozies up to wingnut Republicans from Congress and business. After Cavuto is The Five, a program hosted by four hard-core right-wingers and one rotating Fox version of a lefty.

That’s seven hours of daytime programming that is unambiguously conservative. So where Wallace gets the notion that it’s only in primetime that opinions are expressed is a mystery. But he is insistent that his network trades in legitimate journalism. He went to have this exchange with Colbert:

Colbert: So there’s no sense of chaos as to what the unified message would be, or the narrative that’s being created by the network. There’s never any sense of like, this is what we’re gonna be talking about today or this is the take we’re gonna have on a story?
Wallace: I know there’s this narrative out there that there’s this talking points we have to all follow. It’s bull.

Of course, the truth has long been known that Fox CEO Roger Ailes distributes a “morning memo” everyday that does exactly what Colbert said with regard to a unified message. It would almost be worse if there weren’t. Because that would mean that everybody on the network just spontaneously said all the same things, with the same spin, without any coordination. It would mean they were all manufactured on the same assembly line of right-wing mouthpieces with the same hate-speech chips inserted.

That’s a pretty scary thought. But no scarier than the fact that Fox News just happened to have created conservative stalwarts like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and many other others. Have they ever launched a liberal icon of the sort? Of course not, and that isn’t an accident. So Wallace might want to watch a few hours of Fox and see if he can plausibly defend the network and its obvious rightward bent.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

Stephen Colbert On Donald Trump: He’s My Old Character With Ten Billion Dollars

In an interview on Face the Nation, Stephen Colbert provided one of the reasons he couldn’t continuing doing the character on his old Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report. Blame Donald Trump.

Fox Nation vs. Reality - Colbert

“He’s my old character with ten billion dollars. He’s completely playing on an emotional level, and so beautifully. It’s one of the reasons I can’t do that old character anymore, because he’s doing it better than I ever could; because he’s willing to drink his own Kool-Aid, and manufacture and distribute it; because he’s got all the cash.

He’s this very interesting Frankenstein of the idea that facts don’t matter, only money does, because if money is speech, he’s got a ten billion dollar mouth. And he doesn’t have to spend any of it because everyone will point a camera at him.”

For the record, I don’t think Trump is doing the character anywhere near as good as Colbert did it. If Trump is doing the Colbert character he’s doing without the humor and compassion, and replacing it with hatred and ignorance. But Colbert is spot on that for Trump facts don’t matter (see the Trump Bullshitopedia) and that the media has abandoned their journalistic principles in order to broadcast Trumpmania non-stop.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

Fox Nation Wants To Know: Is Campbell’s Soup ‘Pushing Gay Agenda’

The outrage meter is once again spinning off the dial at the Fox News community website, Fox Nation. This time they are fretting over the threat to traditional American values caused by a TV commercial for Campbell’s Soup (video below).

Fox Nation

The objection to the fearsome soup advertisement was that the people featured enjoying a hot bowl of Campbell’s goodness were a gay family with two fathers and their young son. They sat at the dinner table mimicking Darth Vader’s famous line, “I am your father,” as they fed the boy. Most people would find it a heartwarming presentation of family life in an American home.

However, the Fox Nationalists considered the ad an abomination and posted a link to a right-wing website that accused Campbell’s Soup of “Pushing [A] Gay Agenda.” Because obviously, just showing a gay family is a provocative act that will result in hapless saps being indoctrinated into a deviant lifestyle against their will. Think of all the marriages that will be dissolved after watching this ad. And what about the damage done to the wholesome reputations of both Campbell’s and Star Wars?

The comments of the Fox Nationalists are at once horrifyingly bigoted and endlessly comical. The ad, they say, makes them ill, and promotes an unnatural, anti-God culture. They pledge to never buy Campbell’s soup again, switching to Progressive (which is actually Progresso, but still too close to sounding socialist). They are convinced that the ad (which I doubt any of them have seen on TV unless they’re watching the LogoTV network on cable) will destroy the Campbell’s Soup Company because America cannot abide such tolerance for diversity, which is evident by their rejection of television programs like Modern Family (the #8 ranked show among viewers 18-49).

This isn’t the first time that such an insidious threat has been forced on the American public by dastardly marketing villains who seek to shove multiculturalism down the nation’s throat. Last year they went berserk over an allegedly controversial Cheerios commercial that featured a bi-racial family with an adorable mixed-race daughter. And they also lost their lunch when Coca-Cola produced an ad for the Superbowl that featured a variety of people from different ethnic and national backgrounds singing “America the Beautiful.” What could be uglier?

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

The inbred prejudices of the rightist Fox News audience are fairly predictable. They simply hate anyone that doesn’t conform to their narrow definition of a traditional, conservative, white, Christian, American. Unfortunately for them, that definition is outdated and irrelevant in the twenty-first century. And one of the best demonstrations of how detached they are from reality is the treatment this issue got by Stephen Colbert, whose commentary was devastating and includes the Campbell’s ad in full.

America Wants A Black Jon Stewart For President – Or Center-Right Nation My A…

The conventional (alleged) wisdom from mainstream media punditry has been telling us for years that America is a center-right nation. Never mind the contrary evidence that polls reveal about a populace that favors higher taxes on the rich, marriage equality, action to mitigate Climate Change, immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, enhanced gun safety measures, breaking up big banks, fewer foreign military engagements, an end to gerrymandering and voter suppression, and greater access to healthcare. Somehow the pundit class still manages to define the electorate much farther to the right than reality dictates.

Jon Stewart

Two polls this week illustrate the fallacy of the media perception of where America stands. These aren’t the first polls to set the record straight, but coming out within a couple of days of each other as a new presidential election cycle begins to gear up is instructional and ought to have an impact on how the press frames the political discourse for the next few months.

The first poll is from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. It asked respondents to indicate their comfort levels with various traits of potential candidates. The poll produced an index that expressed the mood of the voters with regard to these traits. Topping the list as the most acceptable trait was “African-American,” with a rating of 75. Those that followed with ratings above fifty were women (74), persons under age 50 (66), Hispanics (63), military background (62), governors (62), and Catholics (57).

Even more telling (and troubling for Republicans) were those at the bottom of the list with negative ratings. They were persons with no prior elected experience (-39), Tea Party leaders (-28), and persons with no college degree (-22). Notables in those categories include Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and college dropout Scott Walker. Additionally, our allegedly center-right nation is more comfortable with a gay or lesbian presidential candidate (33), than with an evangelical Christian (7), or any of the previously mentioned bottom dwellers.

By contrast, when the poll is segmented by party affiliation, Republicans are exposed for their overt biases. They do not rank an ethnic minority until the fifth and sixth spots: Hispanic (69) and African-American (66). Women don’t rate until ninth place with a comfort level barely above fifty (54). However, as might be expected, gays and lesbians are second to last with a negative 15 rating.

The other poll is from Reuters who surveyed Americans to ascertain their favorite pundits. On this poll Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were in a virtual tie with about 47% saying they admired them. The same two topped the charts on the question of who “generally shares your view of the world.” Rush Limbaugh brought up the rear with only 25% giving him any admiration. And it was all right-wingers (Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck, etc.) at the bottom for both the admiration and the world view questions.

One pundit in the survey must be particularly pissed off by these results. Bill O’Reilly ranked significantly lower than Stewart and Colbert on every issue. Since he has been obsessed with attacking them as “deceivers” and the “key components of left-wing television,” he isn’t going to take well the news that large majorities of Americans prefer the Comedy Central duo to him.

The real question is: When will the media take notice that the United States is not the center-right nation they keep pretending it is? We now have evidence that covers both policies and personalities that undeniably paints the country as more progressive. And the only reason that our political representation doesn’t reflect that is because of the corruption of money in campaigns and the corruption of gerrymandering in drawing legislative districts.

News Corpse Presents: The ALL NEW 2nd volume of
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

Were those problems resolved we would see where the nation really comes down ideologically. But don’t count on Republicans to willingly allow more fairness and honesty in the electoral process. The corruption in the system currently is the only reason they have any power now and they aren’t about to let it go. It will have to be taken from them by committed proponents of true democracy. In the words of Patti Smith: “People Have The Power. The power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools.” We just need to exercise it.

Clinton Bash: The Hillary Smear Job Continues On Fox News

The author of “Clinton Cash,” the widely debunked collection of baseless speculation masquerading as an exposé of Hillary Clinton, had yet another opportunity to hawk his snake oil on Fox News’ MediaBuzz with Howard Kurtz. Peter Schweizer was interviewed about the book in the friendliest of settings where he received almost no challenge to the numerous errors he published.

Clinton Bash

Despite the fact that the entire premise of his book is that Hillary Clinton engaged in illegal activities, Schweizer told Kurtz that “I don’t think the standard of any news organization would be that we only report things when we have evidence of illegality.” So, according to Schweizer, the evidence of illegality is not a prerequisite for writing a book accusing someone of illegality. That is a justification for speculation, at best, and slander, at worst. In any case, it is not journalism.

Schweizer was asked about whether, due to his past associations, it would be appropriate to characterize him as partisan. Schweizer’s answer was that he is a conservative, but that does not equate to being a Republican. Really?

For the record, his associations include consorting with the Koch brothers, writing for Breitbart News, heading the ultra-rightist Government Accountability Institute (also affiliated with Breitbart and the Koch brothers), being a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, contributing to Glenn Beck’s book, Broke, and serving as an aide to both George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. Now why would anyone think that he might be a partisan Republican?

Schweizer and Kurtz also discussed his alleged investigation into the finances of Jeb Bush. This is frequently brought up as proof of his political independence. However, it proves nothing of the sort. First, it remains to be seen if he ever publishes anything critical of Bush. This may all be talk. And second, many Republicans are opposing Bush in favor of more radically right-wing Republicans like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. So Schweizer may just be among that contingent of the GOP, and still blatantly partisan.

The entire segment with Kurtz was a useless piece of froth that did nothing but help to promote Schweizer’s book. This could have been predicted from the outset after hearing Kurtz’s first question:

“The coverage of your book has started to turn. Now you’ve acknowledged in interviews that you can’t prove, don’t have a document showing that Hillary Clinton took any specific action intentionally to help donors to the Clinton Foundation. But, are much of the mainstream media giving you a harder time because you’re going after the Clintons?”

Notice that Kurtz started off his question with the valid criticism of Schweizer’s lack of evidence for the crimes his book alleges. But then Kurtz swerves to avoid making Schweizer answer those criticisms by instead bashing the media and throwing Schweizer a softball about what a hard time he has had at the hands of the so-called liberal press that just loves Hillary. A real journalist would have pursued the first part of that question and abandoned the second part as pointless drivel. But Kurtz made his choice which resulted in this response from Schweizer:

“I think there’s a certain element of that, yes. I think part of it is because there have been a lot of scandal books – so-called scandal books – in the past. But I also think that there’s this sense that they’re looking for political motivation in what I’m doing. And I think that you certainly can look behind the motivations of what people are doing, but you also ought to look at the facts themselves.”

Schweizer is actually right on two points. There have been a lot of so-called scandal books about Clinton. And none have proved any wrongdoing whatsoever – just like Schweizer’s. They have, however, defamed her as a lesbian cocaine smuggler who murdered White House counsel Vince Foster, was raped by husband Bill which resulted in Chelsea, hired a terrorist member of the Muslim Brotherhood as a close aide, and is hiding her true identity as a blood-drinking reptilian. And so much more.

The second point Schweizer got right was that it is important to look at the facts. That is something that he, by his own admission, didn’t do in his book, which is all speculation. And it is something that Kurtz also failed to do in his interview. But facts have never been a priority for Fox News and the conservative movement for which they are the propaganda machine. So no one should be surprised that they aren’t starting to care about facts now.

News Corpse Presents: The ALL NEW 2nd volume of
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

Thankfully, Stephen Colbert was one of the first serious journalists to uncover the rapidly expanding epidemic of Hillary Clinton scandals. Here are a couple he reported on last year.

Is Rupert Murdoch A Climate Change Denier Or A Senile Old Schmuck?

One of the most frustrating features of our time is just how oblivious some people are to the advances in knowledge that our times provide. What could be more annoying than having to suffer fools who think that facts are debatable? And it’s bad enough when those encounters are with ignorant Tea Party clods, but the annoyance factor soars when the idiocy emanates from someone who is considered to be accomplished, intelligent and/or educated.

Rupert Murdoch - Stephen Colbert

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Which brings us to the CEO of the media empire that controls (and distorts) much of the world’s news. It would be hard to portray Rupert Murdoch as an ignorant man. He is a billionaire who built a small Australian billboard advertising company into an international news and entertainment conglomerate. So what would possess him to tweet this chunk of hogwash yesterday?

“Just flying over N Atlantic 300 miles of ice. Global warming!”

The inherent stupidity of that thought transcends reason. Murdoch, it is assumed, knows that it is currently winter, a seasonal phase that generally produces icy conditions in the northern hemisphere. The fact that some portion of the ocean is frozen over in February is not particularly surprising to most people with an IQ higher than the temperature. Murdoch is seriously expressing a concept that Stephen Colbert brilliantly articulated as a joke:

“Global warming isn’t real because I was cold today! Also great news: World hunger is over because I just ate.”

But the dumbness factor is not even over for Murdoch. His observation of an icy Atlantic Ocean was made without any context whatsoever. Why does he think it is significant that there is 300 miles of ice? His inference is that there is more than enough ice to disprove the overwhelming scientific consensus that the planet is warming. But he doesn’t seem to grasp the notion that the ice he is witnessing is actually far less than there was a few short years ago. What’s more, the global climate could increase incrementally but still be low enough for ice to form. If the sea temperature went from 28 degrees to 30 degrees there would still be ice in the sea, and the climate would still be warming.

So what could lead a presumably intelligent person to make such an obviously idiotic statement? Especially when the same person has previously taken positions on climate change that were far more reasonable. Is it hypocrisy, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s? Murdoch has warned that Climate Change poses “a catastrophic threat,” but also bragged about his companies achieving carbon neutrality. Simultaneously, his Fox News, and other international media outlets, have produced the most highly misinformed populations on this subject and many others. [See Global Climate Enemy Number One: Rupert Murdoch]

News Corpse Presents: The ALL NEW 2nd volume of
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

The glaring contradictions in Murdoch’s public stance on these matters is cause for alarm. Not only is he doing immense damage to the gullible members of the public who ingest his propaganda, but he is exhibiting signs of mental failure that should worry his family. Of course, the problems associated with his personal health are limited to those who care for him. However, his poisoning the minds of millions of people around the world is dangerously irresponsible. And just as troubling is the fact that he can do that in a manner that casts him as an imbecile, but so many people still buy into it. We are in big, friggin’ trouble if this keeps up.

The Sad Missed Opportunity Of Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show

When Stephen Colbert Announced that he was leaving The Colbert Report to take over David Letterman’s Late Night on CBS, there was an understandable heaving of sighs at the thought of losing one of television’s most unique and talented observers of politics and the press. Colbert had forged a trail that had been unexplored for years and even brought his fake comedic persona into the real world with appearances before Congress, newsmaker interviews, and founding his own Super PAC that raised more than a million dollars.

While fans could look forward to his reemergence as the host of Late Night, the vacancy at Comedy Central gave the network the opportunity to build a new franchise with a fresh outlook. Their selection of Daily Show alum Larry Wilmore was a positive sign. He is a bright, experienced, likable, and truly funny personality. The anticipation for his premiere was bursting with hope.

Larry Wilmore Nightly Show

Unfortunately, the reality has not lived up to the expectations. Rather than presenting a program that could carry on in the tradition of satirical media scrutiny and, when appropriate, ridicule, the Nightly Show took a lazier approach that mimicked what many cable news networks already provide.

The opening segment is the best part of the program. It features Wilmore seated anchor-style at a desk delivering his take on the news of the day. The problem with the show is all of the rest of it.

By choosing to conduct a panel discussion with people that are often neither funny nor interesting, the Nightly Show took the lazy way out. What made Colbert and Jon Stewart shine was their penchant for bringing together the best professionals to write and produce highly entertaining and thought provoking material. There is no way that a bunch of random people sitting around a table engaging in extemporaneous banter, that is mostly attempts to impress the other panelists, is going to have the comedic punch of a well-scripted and rehearsed program. It takes work to be funny, insightful and entertaining, but what the Nightly Show did was to fashion a weak copy of The Five from Fox News and then lean back for a snooze.

The Nightly Show has very little preparation or input from pros with a track record for producing laughs or connecting with an audience. Consequently, the Nightly Show, in this format, can never have the relationship with viewers that Colbert and Stewart have had. As evidence of its failure, note that almost every episode of Stewart’s and Colbert’s shows resulted in clips being posted online that got as much or more attention as the original broadcast. The same thing happens with bits from John Oliver’s HBO program, Last Week. But this has rarely happened with Nightly since its debut a month ago?

Part of the problem is the array of guests. Those who have been reasonably good were the ones with actual experience in show business. However, the politicos and press performed no differently than they might have on CNN. That is not what most people watch Comedy Central to see. And the worst of it comes in the form of blatantly exploitative hacks like anti-vaxxer Zoey O’Toole, and Amy Holmes, who reports for the conspiracy-kook/televangelist Glenn Beck. Why would Wilmore give someone like that a platform on his show?

However, even with better guests there is no substitute for professionals with experience doing the hard work of crafting good comedy. And that is what Nightly is missing. It’s not too late to retool the program. Let Wilmore unleash his proven talent as a comedian the way he did in his appearances on the Daily Show. Strip out the gimmicky bits (i.e. Keep it 100) that will only become tiresome over time. Wilmore does not have to imitate Colbert, but he can learn from the format that was always changing things up. Colbert had The Word, Tip of the Hat, Better Know a District, the Threat Down, etc., and he kept them fresh by not doing hackneyed versions of them every day.

There is still an opportunity for Wilmore to become his own kind of icon over time if he’s committed to putting in the labor and collaborating with other talented pros. Television has enough panel sessions with people speaking off the top of their heads and saying nothing of interest. Wilmore is better than that and I hope he realizes it soon and trusts himself to carry the whole show on his own.

News Corpse Presents: The ALL NEW 2nd volume of
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

On a separate but related matter, there will soon be another vacancy on Comedy Central’s schedule. When Jon Stewart leaves, the network needs to replace him with someone who can fit the format and expand it to even higher heights. It doesn’t have to be a superstar. Nobody knew who Stewart was when he took the helm from Craig Kilborn. (Although if they could scrape up enough cash to hook Tina Fey that would be awesome). But there is someone who seems to be uniquely qualified and well-suited for the job. John Fugelsang is a talented comedian with a broad knowledge of politics, current events, and culture. He can pontificate on matters that are serious in a way that is engaging, entertaining, and connects with an audience.

John Fugelsang

Fugelsang has the TV anchor good looks that draw people in before they’re aware that they are about to be hit with a punch line. And he has experience with both hosting a television program and interviewing people from politics and as well as other walks of life. It was Fugelsang who got Mitt Romney’s communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, to compare campaigning to an Etch A Sketch, thus cementing his reputation as a flip-flopper.

Jon Stewart Is Leaving The Daily Show – Brian Williams Is Leaving NBC News – COINCIDENCE?

Breaking News in the Mediasphere: The controversy surrounding Brian Williams has led to an announcement by NBC management that, effective immediately, Williams will be put on a six month suspension without pay. They describe the punishment as “severe and appropriate” and leave the door open for a return, although without making any overt assurances of that outcome.

Within a couple of hours of that announcement, it was reported that Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, will also be stepping down sometime this year. While there is no scandal associated with Stewart’s separation (that we know of), it is nevertheless a profound blow to the world of media. Stewart has been a sharp, insightful, and hilarious observer of news programming for the past seventeen years.

So what to make of these near simultaneous bulletins? After digesting all of the possible repercussions and consequences, intended and otherwise, there is only one reasonable conclusion that can be reached:

Jon Stewart NBC News

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That’s right. Jon Stewart will be taking over the NBC Nightly News and assuming the duties of managing editor for the network’s news division. It’s an obvious choice considering his long history of media criticism and deep understanding of the workings of contemporary journalism. Stewart knows precisely where the pitfalls are for reporting stories that have real impact on the lives of ordinary Americans. He, more than anyone else, will be able to avoid the sort of embarrassing gaffes that he so deftly mocked on The Daily Show.

As for Brian Williams… What better assignment for someone with an abundance of experience on late night talk shows like David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon (where Williams so brilliantly slow-jammed the news) than to take over the now empty seat on The Daily Show? Williams has proven that he has a quick wit and his spellbinding tales of wartime peril show that he can handle fake news as well as any satirist.

On a serious note, Jon Stewart would be sorely missed under any circumstances. But coming so soon after the loss of Stephen Colbert, the state of political satire is taking a real punch to the gut. Stewart has won nineteen Emmys as writer and producer during his tenure at The Daily Show. And despite the fact that right-wingers suffer a knee-jerk animosity for him, Stewart has been more than fair and balanced. This has even been documented by Fox News who have done more than forty stories (listed here and here) celebrating Stewart’s willingness to go after President Obama and other liberal people or ideas. And his reputation for honesty and accuracy far outshines that of Fox News (see Fox News vs Jon Stewart vs Politifact).

Of Course, whatever grief comedy lovers feel today may be temporary. Colbert will shortly reemerge as the host of CBS’ Late Night. And a new host for The Daily Show will be christened and could be just as talented and stinging as Stewart. Think Lewis Black, W. Kamau Bell, Jessica Williams, Jeff Jeffries, or maybe the husband wife team of Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. Could John Oliver be coaxed back? Dare we hope for Tina Fey? And then we still don’t know what Stewart plans for his next act.

Clearly the landscape is shifting. But hopefully there will be some settling before we get too far into the 2016 election cycle. Till then, thanks for all the good times, Jon, and best wishes for the future. And now…your moment of Zen:

A Tip Of The Hat To The Now Immortal Stephen Colbert

The moment that America was dreading has come. And while parting is said to be a sweet sorrow, the finale of Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report leaves open the possibility of a future meeting. In the meantime we will need to console ourselves with our memories of the past and our hopes for a “Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”

Colbert’s send off included a segment of his take off on Bill O’Reilly’s Talking Points Memo that Colbert transformed into “The Word.” The premise of the piece titled “Same to you, pal,” was his observation that nothing much has changed in the nine years that he has been doing the show. But no matter the sly references to ongoing wars and political debates, things definitely won’t be the same. There was a Colbert Report then, but there isn’t one now. That’s a big difference.

Stephen Colbert

Colbert was much more than a comedian, more than a satirist, more than a late night talk show host, and more than a commentator on contemporary culture. What set his program apart from any that had come before it was the way he integrated his fake persona into real life. It wasn’t good enough to throw punch lines at society’s targets. That would have been way too easy. Colbert interacted with them, and in doing so, made points that could not have been made any other way.

For instance, when he appeared at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2006, he came in character. He broiled both President Bush (who was sitting a few feet away) and the entire audience of media elites. He noted that he was “appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president’s side, and the vice president’s side.” But the coup de grace was the indictment he served up in the form of a tribute (one of his specialties):

“Over the last five years you people were so good — over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

“But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction.”

The “journalists” in the audience (along with such notable guests as Morgan Fairchild, Tommy Lasorda, Mitt Romney, Anna Kornikova, and “Dancing With the Stars” winner Drew Lachey) were caught in a frozen gasp as they tried to comprehend what just took place. Many of them rushed home to pen bitter criticisms of Colbert’s performance that they regarded as unfunny. But that didn’t salve their woulds.

Colbert also transported himself into Congress, again in character, as he lobbied on behalf of migrant farm workers. As usual, his shtick was as serious as it was humorous. When asked by Rep. Judy Chu why he chose to address this issue he said that…

“I like talking about people that don’t have any power. And it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. Yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave.”

When Colbert decided to do a piece on how Super PACs allow politicians to skirt campaign financing laws and enrich themselves without any reasonable oversight, he didn’t just rant on television about it. He started his own very real Super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. It raised more than a million dollars that was donated to charity.

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There is so much more that could be recalled here, including the historic event in Washington, D.C. with his friend and producer, Jon Stewart: The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It was a biting satire of Glenn Beck’s lame Restoring Honor rally, from a man who has never demonstrated any. But the best way to remember the Colbert Report is by letting the show speak for itself. So here is one of my favorite segments that skewers Glenn Beck’s debut on Fox News by asking “How far up your own ass are you willing to go?”

Colbert’s finale also saw him slaying the Grim Reaper, thus making himself immortal. So there may be more to come. At least we can look forward to Colbert’s return to television as the host of CBS’s The Late Show, succeeding David Letterman. You can rest assured that he will revolutionize the genre, as he did with the Colbert Report. Till then we will have to be satisfied with the bittersweet farewell he gave on his final program. The ending featured a cast of dozens of former guests and friends of the show singing the song “We’ll Meet Again.” But you have to wonder whether that selection was a wily reference to the ending of the film Dr. Stangelove, where the song had an ironic twist.