A fake news show is a comedic television program that pokes fun at traditional news programs through parody or satire. In a world increasingly filled with poor examples of journalistic integrity and political correctness, fake news shows irreverently mock both the news and the news caster. Perhaps the most popular fake news shows are The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.
Many trace the origin of the fake news show to American writer Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Early in his career, Twain would often publish fake stories as a means of satire against the political or social norms of his time. In the television era, the fake news show style became popular in England, with the television program That Was The Week That Was. This program was renowned for its skewing of not only the monarchy and political system of Britain, but also the occasional pomposity and silliness of actual news. Popular comedy sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus also humorously criticized newscasters, with one famous sketch involving kidnapping a broadcaster and his desk, driving him to the sea and throwing him in, all as he continued to speak monotonously.
The modern incarnation of the fake news show is perhaps best exemplified by the American show The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The program format is usually fairly standard, beginning with a recap of the day’s most important headlines followed by an in-depth report on a current issue. The reports are usually made by one of the show’s “senior correspondents” usually standing in front of a green-screen projection showing whatever location they are talking about. The report is followed by a short interview with a scholar, celebrity or occasionally a visiting political dignitary.
Whereas The Daily Show parodies the daily network news programs, The Colbert Report satirizes shows run by political pundits, such as Bill O’Reilly’s controversial program The O’Reilly Factor. The Colbert Report includes an interview portion, but is mostly based around the conservative, anti-education beliefs of the host, Stephen Colbert.
While it may seem that a fake news show is merely a vehicle for comedy, some suggest that it actually shows a deep love of true journalism and a cynical mockery of the state of journalism, political spectrum, and cultural practices in the world. Considerable fury was raised when studies were released showing that many people were more likely to get their daily information from shows like The Daily Show than from actual news programs.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, while both insisting that their shows are primarily for laughs, have both created serious stirs by making public statements. Stewart created controversy by appearing on political debate show Crossfire and begging the hosts to “stop hurting America” by using showy, irrelevant arguing as an excuse for viable debate. Similarly, Colbert garnered considerable media fury as the guest speaker for the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, where his blistering speech managed to poke fun at the President, the Supreme Court and the Washington news media.
Despite their humorous intentions, fake news shows are recognized as a vital voice of dissent in an era where some people trust the media as little as or less than they trust politicians. Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have won several awards for excellence in entertainment. The phenomenon of the fake news show has spread outside of the United States and England, with popular programs regularly broadcast in Canada and New Zealand.