Television

'The Daily Show' Gets Serious About International Human Rights

On last night's edition of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart spoke to Mike Kim, the author of Escaping North Korea: Defiance And Hope In The World's Most Repressive Country. Kim spent four years helping North Korean refugees who were leaving the country through China, along a "modern-day underground railroad" that stretches 6,000 miles from Pyongyang to Bangkok, Thailand.

It's not uncommon for Jon Stewart to have interesting guests, or guests with great stories, but I think from the show's perspective, this particular conversation was almost a Platonic ideal of a Daily Show interview.

Why getting your news from The Daily Show is more complicated than it sounds, after the jump...

Kim — not unlike Jon Stewart — is able to demonstrate a sense of humor even during dead-serious discussions about propaganda and the risks assumed by human rights workers. There's a lot of information, it's an engaging conversation, and it doesn't hurt that Kim is a natural on television: a telegenic and warm presence out of the gate.

It can sometimes be tough to wrap your arms around the position that The Daily Show occupies as entertainment and the role it plays as journalism. There's a constant drumbeat of surprise over the fact that it serves as an actual source of information for people, which is often misunderstood to mean only that people use the jokes as news or don't know the difference.

For some reason, the interviews are often left out of those discussions. It doesn't always make it into the analysis that a comedy show demonstrates a particular brand of confidence when it devotes a third of its running time to a guest the vast majority of its audience has never heard of, whose entire agenda is, for instance, international human-rights issues.

There are liberties taken here — I don't know that a more traditional interviewer would (or should) feel as comfortable as Stewart does telling a guest flat-out how brave he is — but the full picture of The Daily Show as a phenomenon has to include this kind of discussion, which really has very little to do with cracking wise.

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