One of Jon Stewart’s favorite lines when someone asks him if he should be more responsible in his representation of news stories and politics is to snidely and smugly retort that they do comedy, not news.
One guest, Libertarian economist Peter Schiff, was so angry at how how his hours-long interview was deceptively edited to make him look bad that he explained at length just how they did it, and how they treat liberals differently:
“They’re just looking for words they can put together like a Frankenstein’s monster,” Peter Schiff, finance expert and recent guest of The Daily Show, told Mediaite. “They wanted to put my words together to create a monster that everyone would hate.”
Now at this point you might be saying, well of course they do, they’re the Daily Show! But it’s instructive to point out exactly how they do this, and why it works.
…Schiff agreed to sit down for an interview to serve as the opposing view in a debate about increasing the minimum wage. He knew he could be walking into a trap, as he revealed, “but you remain optimistic that maybe it’s not.”
And Schiff had reason to be optimistic. A lengthy email he released on Tuesday shows that a The Daily Show producer offered repeated assurances that he would not be taken out of context. “We NEVER edit out of context,” the staffer wrote. “Meaning we never ever show responses to a question we never asked.”
“[R]est assured,” the producer repeated. “NOTHING will be edited out of context.”
Schiff has since released this email, in order to show the dishonesty of the producer.
But that is exactly what happened, Schiff said. He called the final product a “hit job.”
…Schiff revealed that he sat down with correspondent Samantha Bee for four hours, in which he described at length the political origins of the minimum wage and the adverse effect it has had on youth unemployment and productivity. He says that it was more than three hours into the interview when they finally prompted Schiff to offer the segment’s infamous soundbite.
According to Schiff, Bee randomly picked the $2-per-hour wage, and asked just what kind of people would work for that minuscule sum. The financial commentator said there were two types of people who would work for that figure. His first example — a response which was edited out of the package that aired on The Daily Show — were unpaid interns. Interns like the reassuring Daily Show staffer who had revealed to Schiff their prior role before transitioning into a paying job with Comedy Central.
Schiff says he told the reporter and producers that he was certain the unpaid interns they currently have working on staff would rather be working for $2 than $0, and they may not have been forced to take out tens of thousands in student loans in order to legally qualify for an internship program compensated with college credit.
The second group, Schiff said only after a painfully long pause, pleading with Bee for the “politically correct” term, but landing on: “The mentally retarded.” Of course, this response made it into the final package and has resulted in threats to Schiff and his family as a result.
“The only word choice that I can regret is actually saying ‘mentally retarded,’” Schiff told Mediaite. “But I only said it because I couldn’t think of the proper word.” However, Schiff does not regret the comment – the mentally disabled are already legally exempt from minimum wage laws. How does Schiff know this? Beyond his expertise on the issue, Schiff revealed to Mediaite that his wife’s 65-year-old aunt suffers from Down syndrome.
None of the first example that Schiff made of interns was included in the broadcast, and they never mentioned his own experience with having a relative suffering with the condition. Here’s the reaction to the deceptively edited clip:
Think these poor deluded souls were given an honest portrayal of Peter Schiff’s economic view?
You might then think that they do this to all their guests, right? Wrong. Schiff cites a blog from an economist on the other side of the political divide, who was also a guest on the Daily Show and was given all the latitude he needed to present his view as clearly as possible:
The equities analyst revealed on his blog that he was afforded the opportunity by Bee and producers to do multiple takes in order to perfect what he was trying to say.
“All of the answers were recorded following each question in one continuous segment,” Ritholtz wrote. “When I screwed up or ruined a shot, they had to go back to ask the question again, with the response immediately following in the same shot.”
“In other words, they don’t cut up your answers or pull them out of context,” he continued. “Question, Answer, Question, Answer. I assume this keeps litigation from angry remote guests to a minimum.”
If you think this doesn’t make a difference, you’re wrong – polling shows that 21% of Americans aged 18-29 cited the Daily Show or even worse, Saturday Night Live, as their main source for news. This is nearly the same rate as those who said they get their news from mainstream newscasts – 23%.
Schiff’s experience was so bad that this is his only advice to other libertarian or conservatives on appearing on the Daily Show: don’t.
“I would say to people of a libertarian conservative position on an issue, do not do a taped interview,” Schiff added. “You’re going to come out looking really bad. No matter what you say, no matter how eloquently you answer a question, your answer is not going to be what you said.”