Its recent foray into long-form, satire infused reportage on UNESCO's defunding holds subtle lessons for the press.
In the clip above, Jon Stewart prepares his audience at The Daily Show for an episode different than any they'd previously done. For once, the comedy program wouldn't feature a celebrity guest. It would instead broadcast a lengthy piece of satire-infused reportage on America's decision to defund UNESCO, a story that had been all but forgotten in the media. It wasn't a new story. The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO in October 2011 when the organization recognized Palestine as a participating member. In so doing, UNESCO had run afoul of a U.S. law that prohibits federal funds from going to any international organization that recognizes Palestine.
Implicit in The Daily Show's coverage is a statement that this story is more important than its obscurity suggests. UNESCO helps impoverished people to get clean water. It teaches them to read and educates them about the Holocaust. It empowers women in societies where they remain subject to horrific abuses. It is building an early tsunami warning system that could save hundreds of thousands of lives in a single natural disaster. The financial viability of these projects are threatened! But that threat alone wouldn't be a sufficient peg for a treatment on The Daily Show. The program requires an element of absurdity. Part II of The Daily Show's segment captures it:
There are actually several absurdities here. Among them:
- It's absurd to deprive impoverished people of basic education or safety from tsunamis or clean water because the humanitarian entity serving them took a position that has at most a negligible, symbolic impact on an intractable geopolitical stalemate.
- Defunding UNESCO made the United States worse off in all sorts of ways, but we're doing it anyway because of the irrational politics that surround Israel-Palestine.
- It made us specifically worse off in Iraq and Afghanistan, places where we've invested obscene amounts of blood and treasure. Strange that we'd let a largely symbolic controversy hurt our chances there.
- Israel itself continues to fund the UNESCO project that it deems to be in its interests (e.g. Holocaust education).