Here's How Truthful 'The Daily Show' Tries To Be

It's not exactly "fake news."

Some news sites don't even have a fact-checker -- but "The Daily Show" does.

Helmed by comedian Trevor Noah, and Jon Stewart before him, "The Daily Show" created a seat for itself at the intersection of news and stand-up comedy. In order to tackle those hard-hitting topics, the show (and others like it) employs writers who formerly worked as journalists. Surprisingly, the TV gig isn't that much different from working in a traditional newsroom -- after all, everything is based in fact.

"Trevor likes to say that we're not doing a 'fake news show.' We're doing a comedy show about the news," "Daily Show" writer Daniel Radosh said Wednesday during a panel at The New School in New York that discussed discuss fact-checking comedic news shows.

Both Radosh and Dan Amira, the other "Daily Show" writer on the panel, had years of experience in traditional journalism before joining the cable program. Still, knowing the show is technically satire, that might leave some viewers wondering how beholden to the truth the show's writers actually are.

The answer, according to the two writers, isn't complicated: "The Daily Show" is meticulous about making sure its stories have the facts straight, and even employs a dedicated fact-checker, if not only because it's particularly embarrassing when the show messes up.

"We're the ones nit-picking everyone else's shit," Amira pointed out. "So if we're the ones doing that to other people, it's pretty embarrassing to have our own mistakes."

Radosh said that Adam Chodikoff, the show's fact-checker, never relies on secondhand sources to confirm information -- not even those found in The New York Times. Of course, the line between fact and comedic fiction is sometimes a thin one, and once in a while mistakes are made in the name of laughs. While the writers said the show has no official corrections policy, a large error might warrant an apology from the host.

Radosh recalled one memorable example that required Jon Stewart to make on-air amends with former Mississippi Secretary of State Dick Molpus. In 2013, Stewart read a story about the state's long-overdue ratification of the 13th Amendment, which repealed slavery, and discussed previous attempts to make it happen, joking that Molpus must have shredded the paperwork.

"It's clearly a joke, so the fact-checker wouldn't go, 'Well, did he really shred it?'" Radosh explained. "No, you wouldn't check that thing because it's a joke." When viewers responded to the segment defending Molpus' record on civil rights, the show ran another segment to set the story straight.

"The only thing that this poor guy had done wrong," Radosh said, "was be from the state of Mississippi and be named Dick Molpus."

Yet the show's success indicates viewers are largely able to separate the truth from the jokes on their own, as "The Daily Show" mixes humor into nearly every trending topic in news from the cheerful to the utterly depressing.

While traditional news outlets steer clear of mixing any humor with tragedy, "The Daily Show" has managed to find its own recipe for doing just that. The key is in the presentation.

"We need footage that's not super dark," Amira explained. When the writers were faced with touching on the Flint water crisis, for example, they opted to wait until the story had been covered extensively to focus less on the sad reality and more on those who were responsible.

But in the end -- however much we'd like to believe otherwise -- both writers acknowledged that a news diet consisting solely of "The Daily Show" isn't exactly a complete one.

"We're a comedy show," Radosh stated simply. "Our job is not to tell the most important news."

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Larry Wilmore

Daily Show Correspondents & Contributors

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