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Comedians have figured out the trick to covering Trump

Why political satire is the antidote to Trumpism.

Political satire in the age of Trump

The first few months of the Trump administration have been a goldmine for late-night comedians and political satirists. Shows like Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Saturday Night Live, and Late Night With Seth Meyers have enjoyed ratings boosts thanks to their regular lampooning of the Trump White House.

But beyond the jokes and sight gags, political satirists have done an excellent job of seriously covering the Trump administration — sometimes even better than major TV news networks. And that’s because while traditional journalists feel compelled to take President Trump’s often absurd statements and conspiracy theories seriously, political satirists have demonstrated an extremely low tolerance for bullshit.

Sophia McClennen, author of Colbert’s America and co-author of Is Satire Saving Our Nation?, argues that part of what makes satire so useful for covering Trump is that it encourages audiences to think critically. “Political satire is about showing you that the system is faking you out. … It fires up the mind to say, ‘Hmm, this doesn’t seem right.’”

Traditional journalism, on the other hand, doesn’t always know when to laugh at the absurd. “The news media sort of seems like it has to take it seriously in order to be taken seriously,” McClennen says.

You can see the difference between satire and traditional TV journalism in the coverage of Trump’s false claim that President Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower. While comedians debunked his claim, traced its conspiracy-theorist origins, and explained how ridiculous the entire story was, major news networks spent countless hours hosting panel debates and interviews with government officials trying to investigate whether Trump’s conspiracy theory might have merit. That kind of coverage can spread misinformation by repeating rumors and falsehoods ad nauseam.

But the power of satire goes beyond effectively debunking specific falsehoods. Political satire only works when it’s able to describe the world as it actually is — to cut through talking points and spin and endless panel debates. And in the age of Trump, that’s an ability that traditional journalists should be mirroring.

“We think the journalist’s job is to show all sides of the story. But the journalist’s job is to show the truth,” McClennen argues. “And sometimes, in this case, going after the truth is going to be funny because the lies are so absurd that you can’t help but laugh.”

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