COLUMN: Daily Show accusations of sexism could be as fake as its news

Thursday, July 15, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:12 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 16, 2010

“Men hire men,” my dad said to me when I was home for Independence Day.  “And women hire women. That’s just the way it is.”

Whether my dad was strictly accurate or not misses the point.  The gross generalization — that hiring for jobs is largely based on gender — is the center of the brouhaha surrounding the blogosphere and the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” America’s premiere source for fake news.

I love the “Daily Show.” I’ve been watching since Craig Kilborn was the host, and he left the show in 1998. I plan my life around watching the “Daily Show” four nights a week — because if I miss the 10 p.m. airing I catch the rerun at 12:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 1 p.m., or 6 p.m. the next day. My biographers, should I ever have any, will probably point out the influence of the “Daily Show" in my chosen career of pursuing real news (hint hint, biographers).

Thus, when the feminist blog Jezebel decided to make a very thorough, if flawed, critique of the “Daily Show’s” dearth of female on-air “correspondents,” I was devastated. Or, to put it in the 140 characters or less I wrote on Twitter: “This is the most upsetting news EVER!!! EVER EVER!!!” (sic).

Because I was just a little worried that it was true.

Irin Carmon, who writes for Jezebel, went to great lengths, and through a lot of anonymous sources, to make the point that institutionalized sexism, or discrimination based on gender is alive and well at the “Daily Show.” Even if it's not active prejudice, it is a result of adherence to existing social norms and organizational rules.

Jezebel’s article quotes the show co-creator and former executive producer, Madeleine Smithberg, as saying that she doesn’t think the show is sexist and blames “larger societal forces” (Jezebel’s words) for the gender disparity.

And, in some ways, the numbers don’t lie: of the 50 “correspondents” the “Daily Show” has featured over the years, only 11 have been women. 

Like my dad said: “Men hire men.”

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless because I’m still angry with him for even suggesting it, said that maybe women just aren’t as funny as men. Since the “Daily Show” is predicated on humor, it would make sense that more men make it on-air. He sent me an article by Christopher Hitchens from “Vanity Fair” called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” Apparently, a side effect of the ability to grow tiny humans kills any ability to be funny.

“For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing,” Hitchens wrote. “Apart from giving them a very different attitude to filth and embarrassment, it also imbues them with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle.”

Excuse me?

Well, it was all just fuel for the fire. I was furious — not only at my friend for sending me such an odious article, but at my own blindness. How could I have been such a fan of the “Daily Show” and not seen what was right in front of me? Were smashingly good and hilarious critiques of Fox News really enough to justify overlooking such discrimination? Was I condoning the male-dominated media landscape by default because I had not even realized that all of my fake news idols were men?

I thought about it. A lot.

And then the backlash in the media started. Jon Stewart himself mentioned on-air that “Jezebel thinks I’m a sexist prick,” and Slate’s Emily Gould accused Jezebel of using accusations of sexism and the female predisposition to petty jealousy to boost page views. The New York Times wrote a piece on Jezebel’s willingness to take a “media heavyweight . . . to task.”

I found the open letter to “People Who Don’t Work Here,” written by the female staffers of the “Daily Show,” to be most enlightening. “The ‘Daily Show’ isn't a place where women quietly suffer on the sidelines as barely tolerated tokens,” the letter said. “On the contrary: just like the men here, we're indispensable. We generate a significant portion of the show's creative content and the fact is, it wouldn't be the show that you love without us.”

I would rather take their word for it than anyone else’s.

I am, in the end, conflicted. I think that the “Daily Show” could have saved itself a lot of agony if it had not refused to comment for Carmon’s article.  I think Jezebel did a huge amount of reporting, but instead of deferring to a journalist’s obligation to the truth, they decided they had a bone to pick (Jezebel may be a media organization, but it’s a blog of opinion writing with a feminist slant, which can lead to a lack of fairness).

This may have all been blown way out of proportion. Welcome to media in the 21st century.

Do I wish that the “Daily Show” would represent more females on-air? Absolutely.  Do I think that the conspicuous lack of women on the show is a result of deliberate and insidious sexism? Not at all.  I will still be watching.

Erin K. O'Neill is an assistant director of photography for the Missourian and a master's degree candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism. In her first semester of graduate school, she wrote a (very bad) academic paper on the Daily Show titled “On Reporting, Irony and Fake News.”

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Elizabeth Klousia July 17, 2010 | 11:07 a.m.

YES! Thank you! My thoughts exactly! I love the Daily Show and I am saddened by the fact that fewer women make it to the correspondent and writer level. However, I still love the show and what they do. I don't think that they are actively sexist...the system is. There aren't enough women comedians in the pool to choose from. The Daily Show has given a boost to the women on the show who are producing good comedy. Jezebel went too far and interviewed people for the piece who had an agenda. Poor reporting on their part.

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