Last Wednesday, Trevor Noah of The Daily Show interviewed far-right video’s “It Girl,” one Tomi Lahren. Ms. Lahren’s bile-filled screeds against the evils of liberal America are hugely popular right now on social media. (Shouldn’t we change that description to “antisocial”?) She comes across as the Muppet Babies version of Ann Coulter.
It has apparently been widely shared among Noah fans, who appreciate his unflappable demeanor, and among Lahren fans, who like it whenever someone uses a vicious manner to expresses hateful sentiments they admire. (Oh, yes, does that make them feel strong.) Tomi Lahren also lies, which her audience no doubt loves, as well.
Dish It Out vs Take It
The lies begin immediately, with Lahren claiming she’s “not angry.” Well, then she does a good job playing it on TV (and she’s well aware that constantly-fueled rage is what her intended audience feeds upon).
As is usual with far-right media figures, Lahren’s untruths and deliberate distortions don’t cease. They become something like Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound, with constant delivery and repetition of falsehoods substituting for argument. Throw in a little flag-decal patriotism, and the effect means to convey that people On God’s Side have so much data to back them up, their bomb-droppings are irrefutable.
With immense patience and charm, Noah sets about defusing them. It’s a terrific performance. He addresses each of her bogus claims and false equivalencies. I won’t spoil any of his jokes (and the best ones seem to fly right over Lahren’s head), but here’s one example of his tone.
Tomi Lahren considers BlackLivesMatter to be essentially a violent subversive organization, morally equivalent to the KKK. To “prove” this, she cites instances of destruction and murder committed by self-identified BLM supporters. Noah counters that these are the actions of individuals, and the movement does not advocate violence (which is true). Nope, says Lahren, if someone says your movement inspired their hatred, your movement is hateful.
Noah then asks about the KKK and Trump — by Lahren’s logic, isn’t Trump responsible for the KKK’s resurgence? Even if you haven’t watched the video yet, you already know her answer. No! Trump is good! BLM bad! Etc. We’ve heard this record before.
Tomi Lahren’s Damn Lies and Statistics
Tomi Lahren soon floats a statistic so baffling, the audience gasps; a black person is 18.5 times more likely to shoot a police officer than get shot by one. She then claims the 18.5 number is a statistic “no one wants to talk about.” Noah deftly changes the discussion point.
That multiplier 18.5 stuck in my head for a day. Surely, it can’t be true?
Of course, it’s not; and, as Gore Vidal once said elsewhere, it would make a good project for a course in logic. What on Earth can she mean? Well, for one, this statistic actually refers to the probability of any given police officer being shot by a black person, versus the probability of any given unarmed black person being shot by a police officer.
Since there are vastly more black citizens in America than police officers, the number starts to make sense. While policing is not among America’s most dangerous jobs, it does carry some risk, more so than that of the average citizen being killed by a cop.
Look at it this way: shouldn’t the police have a far higher risk of being shot by criminals than you have of being shot by officers? In that context, 18.5 seems amazingly low. If air travel was only 18.5 times less likely to end in explosions than space rockets, none of us would fly again.
The statistic comes from author Heather Mac Donald, who has long written that excessive police violence against minorities is a myth. As she has a clear ax to grind, her number is suspect, but I’ll use it for the sake of argument.
A Simple Test
The argument then becomes: how much more likely is a police officer to be shot by a non-black person than a non-black person to be shot by an officer?
Happily, a programmer named Joseph Atkins-Turkish has read Mac Donald’s work, and done the computations for us, Next Time You See a Racist Abuse Statistics, Here’s How You Call Them Out. Surprise, surprise! Using Mac Donald’s numbers, an officer is 124 times more likely to get shot by a non-black person than a non-black person is to be shot by an officer.
I realize this is Mac Donald’s sin. She is a published book author and contributor to publications like the Wall Street Journal, while Tomi Lahren is merely a young twerp kissing instant celebrity’s rear end. The one knows she is lying; the other blithely repeats this lie. Still, from my perspective, it’s hard not to fault them both.
Noah’s Better At Being Serious Than Funny
I have not watched The Daily Show much since Noah took over. To be honest, I never watched it much before, as I haven’t had cable in 10+ years. But I’d come across the occasional Jon Stewart segment online which had some bite to it.
Most Americans probably first saw Trevor Noah, as I did, on a Daily Show segment where Noah played a game called “Spot the Africa” — showing thriving cities and broken slums, asking Stewart to pick which one was America and which one Africa. The joke was that we tend to stereotype Africa as though it hasn’t changed in the last half century.
The appeal of that segment no doubt helped Noah land the Daily Show anchor gig. How’s he done? It’s a matter of opinion.
Myself, I preferred seeing clips from Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show — Wilmore’s an older fellow, like myself, and his sense of humor just gels with me more.
Plus, Wilmore got fired, largely because he wasn’t picking up the antisocial media “traction” Noah does. I’m still plenty mad at Comedy Central about that. We could have used Wilmore during the general election — and I think the added viewership during election season would have translated into more people coming to appreciate Wilmore’s dry wit.
But, that’s not Noah’s fault, and I should stop resenting him for it. Does his tenure on The Daily Show need time to find its own rhythm? Surely it does. Will they find it? Who knows.
His skilled, polite (on his side, at any rate) debate with Tomi Lahren shows one direction the show might go in. Noah’s “Spot the Africa” segment was serious underneath the irony. His interview here is deadly serious, yet he unearths humor in it. This might be his superpower! Let’s hope so.