The Daily Show Fails on IRS—Again

The Daily ShowThe Tuesday night, I was very displeased with The Daily Show. Jon Stewart discussed the IRS non-scandal. I thought it was very typical of his occasional hit jobs on the Democrats, which he does apparently because he feels the need to keep his credibility. Although truly, it wasn’t so much a hit job on the Democrats, but rather the government. It is just that the Democrats are the only party that admits to believing we should have a government. I am so tired of this.

There is bureaucracy in any institution that gets large enough. This means that there are bureaucracies in government, business, religion, even family. I don’t like it when people claim that there is some big problem with the government bureaucracy. Over my lifetime, I have seen the government get better and better at serving its citizenry. At the same time, as we have seen corporations get bigger and bigger, I have seen their bureaucracies get worse and worse. And there is literally nothing that any of us can do, unlike in the case of the government where we actually have representatives.

Last night on The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell saw the segment differently than I did. But then he went on to mention a couple of things that Stewart notably left out. Watch the segment below, because it really is rather good. There was one thing that really annoyed me in The Daily Show segment that O’Donnell didn’t mention. This was Stewart’s offhand comment that conservative groups were more scrutinized. This is not a statement of fact. There were more conservative groups than liberal groups that were scrutinized. I think this was because there were a lot more conservative groups requesting 501(c)4 status. So basically, Jon Stewart was using statistics to lie. O’Donnell added an important point that almost always gets left out: of the groups so wronged by IRS scrutiny, only one actually got denied and it was a liberal group.

But my broader annoyance with The Daily Show segment was the way it was second guessing the IRS. The truth is the 150 MB size of the email in-boxes is not an unreasonable size. I have been using Gmail for roughly eight years now. I have over a dozen email accounts I use it for. I save everything I get that is not spam. And in that time, I’ve only just made it over 1 GB in total storage. It’s easy to point fingers now and say, “Oh, you should have larger in-boxes!” But there will always be these issues.

Stewart also complained that the IRS only keeps email going back six months and then compares that to how long we tax payers have to hold onto records. Now, there is an actual issue here, but it has nothing to do with email or the IRS non-scandal. Once you owe the government money, you always owe it. But if the government owes you a refund and you don’t file for it within three years, well, it’s gone. So imagine the years 1995-1999 where a citizen didn’t file taxes and owed the following to the IRS (parentheses indicate negative values—the IRS owes the citizen): ($5,000), ($6,000), ($7,000), ($5,000), and $3,000. Our citizen paid $20,000 too much in taxes. But he now owes $3,000 in taxes in addition to very large penalties. I actually find that outrageous, but I’m not sure where the humor is.

Regardless, I didn’t find the Stewart segment funny. Complaining about the bureaucracy is more tired than stand-up routines about air travel from the 1970s. But I do think this is all about The Daily Show keeping its “credibility” as an objective arbiter of truth. And that creates a problem. Every time anyone complains that they don’t get their facts right, they point out that they are a comedy show. But if that’s true, why the pretense at objectivity? It’s very clear when Stewart and the gang are just phoning it in. That’s what we saw last week, which is particularly sad, given that the second sequence that made fun of rich Democrats pleading poverty worked quite well. Of course, it is rare that Democrats provide such a rich target as Hillary Clinton claiming the family was broke when they left the White House.


See also: Mainstream Media Freak Out More Than Fox.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “The Daily Show Fails on IRS—Again

  1. "The Daily Show" was funny before Jon Stewart, when Craig Kilborn was the host and Lizz Winstead the head writer. I enjoyed Frank de Caro’s flaming-gay movie reviews ("Out At The Movies"), especially.

    It became a huge success for Comedy Central during the buildup to Gulf War II. It was literally the only news outlet on TV questioning the administration’s claims, which were so ludicrous maybe only a comedy show could dare to question them. (Gulf War II was a true "Emperor’s New Clothes" moment; the absolute, transparent fallacy of the justifications for war made every major news outlet afraid of pointing out what nonsense they were.)

    I will always be grateful to "The Daily Show" for that period. It was a bastion of sanity. And it’s been an irrelevant-to-harmful product since, most useful for giving up-and-coming comic performers a place to shine. (No small kudos to Stewart for this; he seems very generous about being a straight man and letting others get laughs.)

    Of course you couldn’t expect anything else. Comedy Central is a business. I’m sure it would have kiboshed "The Daily Show"’s Gulf War II anathema if the ratings hadn’t been the highest thing that struggling network had ever experienced. It helps the network’s side considerably that Stewart, a master of the kind of delivery he does, is just as shallow as he was when he worked for MTV. A sweet, good-looking fellow, who no doubt means well, but ultimately shallow. You can’t consider attacking the limping "Frontline" the same thing as attacking Fox News, but I suspect in Stewart’s mind it is; he really stood up to power, there.

    Last year when he took a sabbatical (to work on a film project, I believe), John Oliver stepped in and gave the show what it had lacked since Gulf War II; an actual satiric edge. Mild satire, to be sure, but mild peppers are better than no peppers at all.

    Oliver has since been hired by HBO (perhaps to appeal to everyone who finds Bill Maher a bit, um, slimy) and while I do not have cable I’ve enjoyed the clips HBO releases of Oliver’s show. Here’s one on the climate change "debate" you’ll enjoy, if you haven’t seen it already:

    [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg[/youtube]

    (You may have seen it or even linked to it already. Stuff on the Web happens too fast for me to remember it all. I remember things I read, in books. Slowly. Because my mind does move, but it moves at a very plodding pace.)

    I’ve been enjoying those Oliver clips quite a lot (YouTube has more, the Net Neutrality and World Cup ones are very funny) and think they basically do what "The Daily Show" hasn’t done in a decade.

  2. @JMF – You are much more harsh on the show than I am. I think they get it right a lot more than they get it wrong. Stewart is at his worst in interviews, but he does try. I watched the show when it first came out and I wasn’t very impressed. But that was at the very beginning. I later rather liked Craig Kilborn’s late night talk show.

    Yeah, I think I did link to this John Oliver bit. His new show looks rather good. I’ve seen a few videos from it. I didn’t actually like him too much when he was the replacement host for [i]The Daily Show[/i]. I think he felt constrained. He seems much more real on the new show.

    But [i]The Daily Show[/i] suffers from being a bit too "Serious." Thomas Frank lampooned Stewart’s march to return sanity or whatever it was. Is that really what we have: the right demands change (that they’ve been programmed to demand) and the left asks if we can’t all just get along? But there are times when it is clear that Stewart is angry about something and then he really shines.

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