December 10, 2011

When Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" Fake Journalism Backfires

I am not a fan of game applications aimed at children that include in-app "game enhancement" purchasing features. Even with password protections and controls, trying to entice kids into spending their parents' money on silly digital animals or other similar doodads strikes me as fundamentally exploitative and unethical.

On the other hand, I am a fan of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on Comedy Central. It frequently makes important points in humorous ways, and I probably laugh out loud at segments from that show more than pretty much anything else I see online.

What's the connection between these two seemingly separate topics?

A couple of days ago, The Daily Show ran an interview segment featuring Gameview Studios co-founder Rizwan Virk, regarding their "Tap Fish" game and its in-app purchasing features that indeed are aimed at children. It was a hilarious and devastating interview, accusing Gameview of behaving like a drug dealer, among other disreputable attributes.

Yesterday Virk responded on his own blog, accusing The Daily Show of an "ambush interview" that was orchestrated and edited to misrepresent the facts of the situation.

Much as I dislike Gameview's business model when it comes to children, I have to admit that I do have some sympathy for Virk, because back in 2004, Comedy Central tried to screw me with a somewhat similar ambush.

In my case, I got a call from a producer who identified themselves as being with MTV Networks. I was invited to discuss problems associated with Internet spam, on a program she called "The Debate Show."

This turned out to be a fraudulent description. The show was actually a Comedy Central production called Crossballs, and the details of the seamy way the show operated, and how I barely avoided the trap by hours, are in this contemporaneous write-up that I posted at the time. USA Today also discussed my story in an article about ambush TV.

While the situations are not exactly parallel -- I was told I'd be appearing on a serious program on MTV, while it is widely known that The Daily Show is a humorous show on Comedy Central, interviews that have been unfairly manipulated in shooting or editing are still unjustifiable, particularly when guests agree to appear in good faith.

This all again spotlights the complex pitfalls that can occur when entertainment and serious news subjects are intermingled. There were plenty of ways to dig at the Tap Fish story without the kind of interview misrepresentation that appears to have taken place in this instance.

Comedy Central has some great programs, definitely including The Daily Show. But I would argue that these programs can be successfully and entertainingly produced without abusing interview guests -- even ones who may in some respects definitely deserve degrees of disdain.


Posted by Lauren at December 10, 2011 02:29 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein