The Daily Show and the Filter Bubble

Posted on December 9, 2016 by

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Last week, Trevor Noah interviewed the conservative commentator Tomi Lahren on The Daily Show. Although I recommend watching the nearly half-hour unedited version, the one that aired is still remarkable to watch.

Lahren, a firebrand conservative who has a show on TheBlaze network, remarked as she started the interview that she had entered “the lion’s den.” The 24-year-old has been extremely popular from her self-titled program Tomi. Her reputation largely has been from her monologues, which are shared by millions on social media. I had never heard of her before this interview, a perfect example of the filter bubble that has polarized online discourse. Although I do not have social media presence, my usual sources of news (NPR, The Atlantic, Slate, The New York Times, and The New Yorker) are left-leaning and are probably equally popular with others of my political stance. Additionally, I am a relatively frequent watcher of The Daily Show, another source of media that is generally friendly to the left.

Tomi Lahren’s interview was the perfect example of the collision of two normally isolated bubbles. She is from a military family and was raised in South Dakota. She has already made a name for herself as a young, female, commentator who is a fresh face to Republican ideas that were once the exclusive domain of old white men. Trevor Noah represents the new, cosmopolitan, multicultural, globalized future of the left. He was born as a mixed-race child in apartheid South Africa and is now based in New York. New correspondents on the show including Ronny Chieng, Roy Wood Jr., and Desi Lydic embody that more inclusive view.

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Despite all this, the interview with Lahren was still surprising for her own frankness and Noah’s willingness to push her on some of the more charged statements she made.  She argued that black people are 18 times more likely to kill police, a statement that caused audible gasps in the studio audience. Lahren also defended her comparison of the Black Lives Matter movement to the KKK, stating that the movements shared similarities because they occasionally led to looting. She reiterated her criticism of Colin Kaepernick, who protested racial oppression by kneeling during the national anthem, and on her show called him a “whiny, indulgent, attention-seeking cry baby”. When Lahren denied the accusations of racism against her she proclaimed, directly to a biracial man, that she “…doesn’t see color” — to incredulous laughter in the audience and to a visibly wincing Trevor Noah.

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There is a real social divide between the kinds of people who regularly watch her videos (and others like it), and the Daily Show. By the end of the interview, the audience was vocal and frequently booed her. I doubt that she came on the show to change anyone’s mind, or even to find a common ground with Noah or the audience. As Vox’s Caroline Framke wrote, it was clear that trying to sway Lahren was never his intent, or vice versa. Inviting her on was a way to show his viewers exactly the kind of rhetoric and thinking that didn’t just dominate the election, but won it.”

Noah succeeded in achieving this end. It certainly surprised me and sent me down the rabbit hole of exploring the conservative media sphere are hidden from me by algorithms.

This interview brought me back to one of my favorite parts of the old Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which was when Stewart occasionally brought in Bill O’Reilly. The two men disagreed on nearly everything. Despite this there was always an air of mutual respect and the tone remained jovial, however heated the discussion became. I see Trevor Noah’s recent interview as continuing Stewart’s willingness to break out of the liberal bubble and talk to the other side. In this current political climate of anger, distrust, and divide, it’s the least we can hope for.

 

 

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