Jon Stewart’s response to Paul Krugman is very funny. See for yourself. It’s also very interesting. Krugman was scandalized by The Daily Show’s mockery of the trillion-dollar coin idea. I don’t think I’m shattering anyone’s illusions when I say that Krugman is extremely arrogant and thinks of himself as the infallible Pope of progressivism and the Dean of the Reality Based Community. So when The Daily Show, which many see as somewhere between the official spokesman and the Court theater troupe of those constituencies, mocked an idea Krugman has championed, well, something must have gone terribly wrong. Hence, Krugman says that when Stewart just pretends to be a know-nothing while mocking complicated things as dumb Stewart is in fact “hurting his own brand.”
Stewart’s response is almost perfectly accurate (again, see for yourself): Cheap mocking of serious things is our brand. Stewart basically says, look there are always going to be serious counter-arguments to everything we do. The bluntness is part of the comedy. And, he adds, it’s “typically a bluntness people forgive when in agreement with our point of view.”
And this is where I think Stewart is slightly off. He’s absolutely right that liberals will forgive Stewart everything and anything when he’s skewering the right, no matter how unfair. What I think he misses is the degree to which the show’s biggest fans don’t realize how unfair the show is to the views it mocks. The college kids who get all of their news from The Daily Show, think it’s funny because it’s true, even though they have no clue what the truth of the matter is.
Meanwhile, I think Krugman was legitimately shocked when The Daily Show treated an idea he endorses the same way The Daily Show routinely treats Republicans, Fox News, etc. Those attacks rightward aren’t dumbing down, Krugman thinks, they’re brilliant satire! But when you do the same thing leftward it’s not only dumb it’s “ruining the brand.”
And this is where Krugman has a point. What’s counter to The Daily Show brand isn’t the selective and one-sided mockery. What’s counter to the brand is the target.
I still have a soft spot for The Daily Show and for Stewart, but as I’ve written a few times around here, he made a terrible mistake going from a pox-on-both-your-houses satirist to a champion of liberalism. Maybe now that the Bush years are long over and Obama is the only game in town for another four, he’ll become more evenhanded again. I doubt it. But if he is, his spat with Krugman is a good start.