When will politicians learn that fake news shows can get you in just as much trouble as real ones? Maybe even more trouble, since they tend to have much bigger audiences.
North Carolina Republican Party official Don Yelton is the latest public figure to stumble upon this truism. Or more properly, former Republican Party official Don Yelton, as he resigned after his appearance in a controversial segment on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” on Wednesday.
Mr. Yelton – who until Thursday was a precinct chairman in North Carolina’s Buncombe County – talked with “Daily Show” correspondent Aasif Mandvi about a new state law that requires photo identification to vote. Civil rights advocates charge that such laws are intended to suppress minority votes.
Asked if he was a racist, Yelton paused, then said he’d “been called a bigot before.”
“As a matter of fact, one of my best friends is black,” he added.
Things went downhill from there. Yelton told "The Daily Show” correspondent that he’d had a caricature of President Obama dressed as a witch doctor sitting on a stump, but that the drawing made fun of the president’s “white half, not his black half.” (Mr. Obama’s mother was white, his father black.) He complained that blacks could use the N-word, but not whites. Only he didn’t say “N-word”; he said the word itself.
“You know we can hear you, right?” Mr. Mandvi said in the on-camera interview.
Yelton went on to say that the photo ID law would “kick Democrats in the butt.”
“If [the photo ID law] hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it,” Yelton said.
The comments went viral after "The Daily Show” posted a video clip of the interview on Thursday morning. Yelton defended his remarks to a local publication, but the state party itself began to furiously backpedal.
By Thursday evening, Yelton was out. North Carolina GOP chairman Claude Pope said that the comments were “completely inappropriate and highly offensive” and that Yelton was speaking only for himself, not for the party as a whole.
Mr. Pope said that the Buncombe County GOP chairman had told Yelton the party would take steps to remove him if he didn’t resign.
Of course, more experienced operators than Yelton have run afoul of “Daily Show” questioning this month. Two weeks ago, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius appeared on set for an interview with Mr. Stewart himself, and it was “cringeworthy,” according to The Daily Beast.
Stewart started off by saying they would have a race. Secretary Sebelius could begin to open the Obamacare sign-up website, and he would start downloading “every movie ever made.” They’d see who would be done first.
After that, Sebelius just seemed taken aback by Stewart’s questions. Asked how many people had already signed up for Obamacare, she said, “I don’t know.” He kept asking why businesses had received a delay in the mandate that they provide health insurance to employees, while individuals have not received a delay in the mandate that they purchase health insurance.
“Maybe she’s just lying to me,” Stewart said in a monologue near the end of the show.
Stewart has hammered the Obama administration on its rollout of the Affordable Care Act over a number of shows. That’s a big problem for the president because "The Daily Show” reaches just the kind of person that Obamacare needs – generally healthy young people, who don’t cost insurers much money.
Maybe Obama himself should appear on the show to try to swing him over, suggested Washington Post political expert Chris Cillizza earlier this week.
“What Stewart says matters – a lot,” Mr. Cillizza wrote.