THE DAILY SHOW AND THE
POLITICS OF TRUTH
“One anchor, five correspondents, zero credibility.” So begins the description of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on the Comedy Central Web site. It wraps up as follows: “Don’t miss The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a nightly half-hour series unburdened by objectivity, journalistic integrity or even accuracy.” In contrast, many media and political heavyweights, such as Ted Koppel, Tim Russert, and Al Gore, argue exactly the opposite: The Daily Show is more credible, more objective, more accurate, and more truthful than the politicians it satirizes.
This chapter explores the complicated relationship between truth-telling and the satirical critique of The Daily Show. I argue that Jon Stewart embodies a contemporary form of what Michel Foucault calls parrhesia, Greek for “truth-telling.” This unique form of parrhesia could only have emerged in our current political atmosphere: a colonization of the political space by the contemporary spectacle of politics itself, created by campaign consultants, political advertising, and political branding
The Daily Show highlights and satirizes this type of spectacle. This is the “truth” that Stewart and his cast are telling both explicitly and implicitly through parody, epitomizing the show’s role as a new type of democratic watchdog. Stewart offers no political alternatives of his own; his contributions are purely diagnostic. He is our guide through the morass of political hype generated by the politicians themselves, calling attention to the spectacle of the permanent campaign by highlighting the artifice of contemporary political discourse. By showcasing this spectacle as artifice and manipula-