How do you think he got all those Emmys?

Don't Ever Appear on 'The Daily Show'

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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In mid-September, some Washington Redskins fans agreed to go on "The Daily Show" to defend the team's name. In the course of negotiating their appearance, the fans asked whether they would be confronted by American Indians on the show. The producers said no, and then surprise! They were ambushed by irate American Indian activists.

Before we go any further, I'm in favor of changing the team's name. I don't want to get into a tired debate; my general position on such matters is that whatever its history, "Redskins" is now viewed as an epithet, and ladies and gentlemen do not use offensive epithets when they can avoid doing so. Moreover, while I understand that the fans love their team, one hopes they are attached to the folks who play the game, not whatever name they happen to go by.

That said, my hopes for the team's future reincarnation as some warlike animal, perhaps the "Senatorial Aides," do not mean that I will countenance anything in the name of the cause. I'm with Mark Kleiman on this: It's unacceptable to lie to interview subjects -- especially members of the public, who probably do not have PR flacks and image consultants to assist them.

This appears to be something of a standard practice for "The Daily Show" when interviewing its ideological opponents. It is not good journalistic practice, which is why so many millennials should take Jon Stewart at his word and not treat the show as news. However, I'm sure millennials will continue to do so, and the show's producers will continue to supply them with dubious antics, so here's a guide for people who do not share the show's politics but are considering going on it anyway:

  1. Don't.
  2. If you must, bring two tape recorders, a video camera and a witness. Announce at the beginning that you are going to record this and reserve the right to release the entire recording to the public. When they tell you that they will not do the interview under those conditions, prepare to leave. There is no ethical reason that a reporter requires the ability to ask you questions without having those questions recorded. The reason they don't want unedited audio is that you might release it and be revealed as a normal decent person, rather than a horrible fool.
  3. They may attempt to get you to stay by explaining that recording will interfere with their equipment. This is the point where you whip the video camera out of your bag and helpfully offer to videotape the interview instead. Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be alone in a room with the producers and no recording device.
  4. Seriously, don't go on "The Daily Show." They control the format, the questions and the editing process. There is no way you can win. Your purpose is to look like an idiot on the show, and they have all the tools they need to make sure you fulfill that purpose. There is a reason that you have never seen a video clip of someone who "beat" Jon Stewart -- or Bill O'Reilly, or any other host of a show that pits professional interviewers against ordinary subjects. It's the same reason you haven't seen clips of ordinary folks beating Evander Holyfield: They are really good at this, and what they are good at is making you look like a stubborn moron who couldn't find his backside with both hands in the dark.
  5. If you must go on "The Daily Show" and, despite all good advice, you are sitting down for an interview without your own witness and recorders running, understand that they will ask you questions that have no good answer. The correct answer to such questions is to tilt your head to one side and say "Sorry?" If they ask the question again, just ask "Didn't you already ask that?" Do not provide any other answer to a badly framed question along the lines of "When did you stop beating your wife?"
  6. Producers will ask you the same question over and over in the hopes of getting a funny response. Same thing: "Didn't you already ask that?"
  7. I must reiterate that you should not go on the Daily Show. If you do, you will end up wishing that you had a third leg so that you could run around the block, kicking yourself.
  8. Do not try to be funny or charming. Funny and charming usually reads "creepy and arrogant" on television, especially after the editors are done with it.
  9. For heaven's sake, why are you going on "The Daily Show"? Are you that desperate to get on television? It's really not that exciting, I promise. The only reason for you to go on television is for your family to see you being on television, except that in this case, what your family is going to see is you being profoundly embarrassed on television. There is no way that this ends well. Stay home and watch "The Daily Show" instead; it's really funny as long as you're not the target of the joke.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net