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Fake news gets real

"The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" target Iran, Iraq, and the rest of the world.

A later piece points out that Yazdi, Abtahi and Bahari ("the Axis of Evil's Axis of Evil") had been detained by authorities. The reports filled with the grainy and visceral YouTube videos culled from Andrew Sullivan or Nico Pitney's running coverage of the uprising. And the final report leaves the humor behind altogether:

“As I watch what’s happening there now, " Jones says, "I know that somewhere in that sea of faces are the same people I had met, people who were gracious enough to take me into their homes, and schools, and coffee shops, people who indulged my asinine questions, people I hope will be safe and not be harmed or arrested for the simple act of wearing green and wanting a voice.”

Do the millions of Americans who watched this series (or, more likely, internet video clips of it) have a better understanding of what's happening inside Iran? Do they now have a stronger sense of daily life there? Do they now know more about the things that unite, rather than divide, the people of these two countries? And did they have fun watching it?

Mission accomplished.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Jason Jones: Behind the Veil - The Kids Are Allah Right
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Jason Jones in Iran

The Colbert Report, which earlier this month broadcast a week of shows from Saddam Hussein’s former Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, was equally impressive in its foreign coverage — not least for pulling off the technical feat of producing five 30 minute programs from a war zone 5,200 miles from its studios in Manhattan.

(For a fascinating take about how they did it, including landing interviews with President Obama and U.S. Commanding General in Iraq Ray Odierno, check out this Terry Gross interview with The Colbert Report's executive producer and head writer Allison Silverman).

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Obama Orders Stephen's Haircut - Ray Odierno
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Jeff Goldblum

So why transplant an entire comedy show into difficult, even dangerous, conditions? To correct yet another shortcoming of the mainstream media, of course: Iraq had fallen off the news map. Here's how Colbert explained it in the June 6 edition of Newsweek, for which he was the magazine's guest editor:

“I hadn’t seen it in the media for a while, and when I don’t see something, I assume it’s vanished forever, like in that terrifying game peekaboo. We stopped seeing much coverage of the Iraq War back in September when the economy tanked, and I just figured the insurgents were wiped out because they were heavily invested in Lehman Brothers.”

Funny, of course. But Colbert's Baghdad caper was also smart, courageous, and culturally relevant (the media-savvy President Obama doesn't play along with a dangerous comedian like Colbert unless there's a political upside).

Clips of the Baghdad shows quickly flooded YouTube, Hulu, Facebook, Twitter, as well as the mainstream media (The New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Time, Newsweek and others covered it). And so, like Jones in Iran, Colbert's mission was also accomplished.

No, this is not journalism. And neither Colbert nor his Daily Show counterparts make that claim.

But in an increasingly global media landscape where satire bleeds into analysis and where hope meets the brutality of a Basij baton, fake news is playing an increasingly important role — particularly on the internet, where hundreds of thousands of people download, watch and share these clips each day.

Love it or hate it, millions of people are paying attention to fake news across America and the world. 

Recent columns by Thomas Mucha: 

The globalization of social media

The Great Recession of 2009

Reflections on the big, sick dog

A World of Trouble, the sequel