The Daily Show and the Smug Style

Jon Stewart - Smug StyleI noticed a couple of weeks ago that I had totally stopped watching The Daily Show. So I went back and watched a week of it. It’s still quite a funny show. But it is nothing you won’t see on countless other late night talk shows. There is nothing insightful about it. And I say this as one who had my problems with the show under Jon Stewart. I agree with Emmett Rensin in The Smug Style in American Liberalism. There was always a problem with it trying to be non-ideological and thinking that policy fights were really just a question of everyone accepting what the facts are.

But the new show with Trevor Noah is just an exercise is triviality. I have to question the idea of giving the show to a recent immigrant, given the tendency to see one’s new locale as charming and benign. And the United States is really not either of those things. Or at least not things that make for good social satire. Another problem may be his age. Certainly, John Oliver seems to be more in the tradition of Jon Stewart, and he is both older and less of a newcomer to the nation.

Oliver definitely is continuing the smug style of liberalism. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve noted in the past, when Jon Stewart hosted The Daily Show, I may have had problems with it but I watched it every day. And John Oliver’s long segments on Last Week Tonight are incredible. His most recent was an excellent example, but also telling because it isn’t about politics at all. It’s about scientific studies and the terrible job that the media does in discussing them. Check it out:

This is an old problem in statistics. If you do the same study enough times, you will occasionally get a study that finds something that is incorrect. This is something that drives me crazy about the way polls are presented. I often hear things like, “Candidate A and B are in a statistical tie.” This is because the two candidates are closer than the margin of error. But this is meaningless. The margin of error is just a measure of how many people were sampled. No one poll is very meaningful, although it might by chance be correct.

The reason that the smug style of liberalism is really not a problem to me is because our society is so out of kilter that just getting the facts right is a big deal. It reminds me of what I said about Paul Krugman years ago: he’s a lot more conservative than I am and I look forward to the day that I start disagreeing with him. That day is at hand, of course. Just check out his recent blog post, The Facts Have A Well-Known Center-Left Bias — a clear case of false equivalence.

But it is sad to see The Daily Show sink even below the smug style. It isn’t helped by the fact that Noah now has Donald Trump to slam night after night. It does make me wonder what will happen once Donald Trump goes away and Noah doesn’t have permission to go after so much else that is just as dangerous, but perhaps not as obviously so.

It’s sad to say, but I miss Jon Stewart’s smug style of non-ideological liberalism. I can’t imagine a day in my lifetime that we won’t need it.

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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.

6 thoughts on “The Daily Show and the Smug Style

  1. I had long stretches where I didn’t watch the Daily Show because it was pretty repetitive. It is the same reason that the media is hyping Trump. Or it was until it found out he likes to pretend to be other people. Anyway, there is only so many ways you can complain about how awful the Republicans are before it gets boring.

    And a great deal of the time I thought his attacks on liberals were because he thought he ought to attack, not because they had done something wrong.

    Trevor Noah is taking it back to the way The Daily Show was under Craig Kilborn. Funny but not important.

    • Yes, he is silly the way that Kilborn was. I actually liked Kilborn’s talk show as long as it was on. I agree about about Stewart attacking Democrats just so he could say he wasn’t biased. It often seemed really forced. He was at his best attacking Fox News — far better than Media Matters!

        • Media Matters is a great resource. It’s amazing that they drive the conservative movement crazy, just by posting what they say without comment.

  2. The article is interesting, even if I don’t quite buy every premise it assumes. For example, Rensin keeps referring to hipster professionals in Brooklyn, which is not exactly representative of liberals in other places/circumstances. (It’s how Fox/hate radio portray us all as being.) And more importantly the story of how labor and the left began to separate is more complex than he describes it (while he gets right what he includes, there’s more to the story.)

    I suspect for a large number of party elites though his characterization is correct (the same TED talks attendees T. Frank lambastes . . . or pure conmen like this guy.) But I’m not exactly sure what to do about it besides what people like Elizabeth are already doing to rebuild the grassroots.

    • I don’t accept everything in that article either. But I do that part of it that I referenced. But there is something to the conservative critique of liberals. It’s just, as you say, a small part of us. But the bigger problem is this idea that we are non-ideological. Those who think that just think it because what they want is in the middle.

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