“Now Fact Has Become Opinion”: ‘Fake News’ and the Search for Truth in The Daily Show

Abstract: As an emerging phenomenon during the US presidential campaign 2016, ‘fake news’ has added a new layer to debates on media truthfulness. Donald Trump’s use of statements which share characteristics with ‘fake news’ and are characterized by an indifference to facts has been magnified by journalists’ inability to effectively fact-check his claims. My article uses the comedy program The Daily Show With Trevor Noah as a case study to highlight its critical interrogation of the media, its exposure of Trump’s communication strategy, and its conviction in finding a discernible truth in relation to fake news. First, I outline the characteristics of ‘fake news,’ then I demonstrate how aspects of the postmodern carnivalesque are present in The Daily Show and used to highlight features of Trump’s assertions. The program utilizes postmodern techniques to both mimic and critique the way in which the statements of the US President are covered by the media. I argue that the The Daily Show employs postmodern techniques such as Jürgen Habermas’s concept of strategic speech to expose similarities between ‘fake news’ and the statements made by President Trump. Moreover, the show utilizes a questioning technique in its interview segments adhering to Habermas’s parameters for communicative speech, which highlights the show’s modernist understanding of a discernible truth.

Despite being a comedy program, The Daily Show has come to play a significant role in the public discussion on politics and the news media in the United States. The show’s host, Trevor Noah, has interviewed leading politicians such as former US President Barack Obama. In The Daily Show, which airs on Comedy Central, the host comments on current news stories and how cable news channels present them in their reports. The late night show criticizes the way in which politicians and media organizations operate by mimicking their distinguishing elements and combining them with jokes. Through the use of irony and mockery, this satirical criticism appeals to its late night audience and adds a humorous layer to what would otherwise be a serious critique.

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