UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State School of International Affairs professor Sophia McClennen went viral earlier this month, racking up millions of views in what is now Vox’s most successful video ever.
With over 1.4 million views on YouTube and 17.4 million views on Facebook, “Comedians have figured out the trick to covering Trump” draws on McClennen’s extensive research and expertise on the role and importance of satire to examine how the nation’s leading satirists are often doing a better job reporting on the Trump administration than traditional journalists.
Vox Strikethrough host Carlos Maza argues in the video that President Donald Trump is particularly vulnerable to satire because “a lot of what he says is ridiculous.” But whereas outlets like CNN or ABC take Trump’s claims at face value and spend hours of air time debating them, political satirists have less tolerance for falsehoods and absurdity.
“The news media seems like it has to take [Trump’s claims] seriously to be taken seriously,” McClennen says in the video. “Political satire is about showing you that the system is faking you out. It fires up the mind to say ‘Hmmm, this doesn’t seem right.’”
This dynamic has cast political satirists such as Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jon Oliver, and even the cast of Saturday Night Live in an important and evolving role in the public dialogue. Oftentimes, the video notes, these comedians are doing more focused and in-depth reporting than major news networks.
“We think that the journalist’s job is to show all sides of the story, but the journalist’s job is to show the truth,” McClennen concludes. “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.”
Following the rampant success of the video, McClennen also discussed how political satire makes us more critical news consumers with The Daily Collegian and appeared on “Watching the Hawks” on RT America to talk about the role of political satire in the Trump administration. McClennen—author of multiple books including Is Satire Saving Our Nation? and Colbert’s America: Satire and Democracy—also often covers the topics of satire, the media, and the Trump administration in her weekly column at Salon.