The Washington Post breathlessly reported a "tense situation" last week when the Daily Show's Jason Jones "suddenly confronted" them by bringing on a larger group of Native American activists. One woman was so alarmed, we were told, that she fled " in tears and felt so threatened that she later called the police." None of that footage made the final cut.
Now, to be sure, The Daily Show is a comedy show, and what is described by the Post so feverishly doesn't sound funny, nor was it supposed to, which seems to be the point. Fear sells. Controversy sells.
Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" aired a controversial report Thursday night, which involved a group of Washington Redskins fans being confronted by Native Americans who want the NFL franchise to change its name and logo.
'We work very hard to find real people who have real beliefs and want to express those beliefs on television, and we work hard to make sure the gist of those beliefs are represented accurately, albeit sometimes comedically, on our program.'
- Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
The story first made headlines earlier this week when one of the football fans interviewed told The Washington Post she felt threatened by the confrontation, leaving the interview in tears and calling police.
Prior to airing the segment, host Jon Stewart, addressed public concerns over how the interview was conducted, and assured viewers of the Daily Show that the program does not broadcast pieces if a subject has been intentionally misled or their comments misrepresented.
Ok, so there's that out of the way. But what's really going on here? Why were the Redskins fans afraid, and why was the Washington Post so keen to gin up that aspect of the story?
Megyn Fennerty at the AZ Republic put it this way, which seems to sum up the situation well.
The real issue with Washington team's fans and their resistance to changing the name isn't conscious racism, as was evidenced on the show. But it's not just a love of sporting tradition, either, because teams move, change uniforms, names and mascots. And people adapt.↓ Story continues below ↓
Instead, experts say, people resist this kind of race-based language change because it makes them feel insecure, like they could be accused of racism or misspeaking at any moment. This was a primary concern for the fans in the "Daily Show" segment, hence the letter from the lawyer, which was not enough to void the releases they signed prior to taping.
The "Daily Show" did nothing to alleviate these fears. And it did nothing to create a safe, non-confrontational space for true understanding. Or if it did, it chose not to air that footage.
Which is one way of saying that a comedy show might not be the best avenue for opening a constructive dialogue on this issue.