Interview fallout

By Jackson Somes

In response to an interview with Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi, North Carolina GOP Precinct Chair Don Yelton has resigned due to the racist tone of Yelton during the interview. Although the interview provided comedic gold for The Daily Show it could set an unfortunate precedent for the future of satirical journalism.

Back in June, the Supreme Court struck down large portions of the Voting Rights Act, a law designed to protect voters from discriminatory voter restriction laws. With the Voting Rights Act finally out of the way, red states quickly mobilized to pass voter restriction legislation. Texas was the first state to celebrate the Supreme Court decision by implementing voter restriction legislation merely hours after the decision was handed down.

On Oct. 10, The Daily Show took a look at the recently implemented voter restriction laws. Correspondent Aasif Mandvi talked with Yelton about the nature of North Carolina’s new voter restriction laws. What was shocking about the interview wasn’t how willfully and gleefully Yelton admitted that the voter restriction laws are going “kick the Democrats in the butt,” but rather the racist demeanor of Yelton.

During the interview, Mandvi offers a sarcastic suggestion that neither the voter restriction laws, nor Yelton were racist. Instead of staying quiet and nodding his head, Yelton defies expectations by saying, “Well, I’ve been called a bigot before.”

Although this interview provided a brief moment of hilarity mixed with disbelief, I fear it could end up being an unfortunate precedent for The Daily Show and satirical news in general.

Yelton’s bluntness, his resignation and the media frenzy that has followed it all in alternative media, such as Alternet and Slate magazine, is not necessarily a good thing for The Daily Show.

Yelton’s resignation and the negative coverage of the North Carolina GOP will scare away potential interviewees and sources that serve as The Daily Show’s comedic fodder. Representatives will never be granted approval from their respective parties to appear on the show in order to avoid unwanted unfavorable coverage. The Daily Show shapes their own narrative, so why play into their hands at their own expense.
According to Business Insider, a part of the GOP’s statement in regard to Yelton’s interview was that he never sought permission to be a part of the interview. If asking permission to appear on The Daily Show is going to become a prerequisite for doing so, than no member will be granted approval.

We have seen this kind of action before. Stephen Colbert used to hold a fairly regular segment titled “Better Know A District” on his own program, The Colbert Report. During this segment, Colbert would sit down with a congressional representative and throughout the interview continuously find ways to make the representative look like an utter fool. It was a hilarious segment and a personal favorite of mine but back in 2007, Democratic Caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel advised Democratic representatives to not appear on the show. After this announcement by Emanuel, the “Better Know A District” segments has almost become nonexistent on The Colbert Report due to unwilling representatives.

Madvi’s interview with Yelton could prove to have the same effect on local, state and national representatives appearing on The Daily Show. The shot at increased publicity and popularity for politicians will no longer outweigh the risks of being portrayed in a negative light and possibly damaging a party’s credibility.

It’s an unfortunate scenario and it is not just a loss for comedy. Although a satirical news organization that focuses on comedy first, The Daily Show plays a very real role as a check on journalism. Especially television news, which is focusing more and more on being entertainment often disguised as journalism. The loss of incompetent or ignorant sources that the The Daily Show relies upon could put a real dent in the overall function of what the show has to offer.