Amidst the fallout surrounding Indiana’s religious freedom law, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly claims the media’s response to the law has allowed “open season on Christians.” On the segment of the O’Reilly Factor, the host singles out Bill Maher, comedian, host of Real Time with Bill Maher, and producer of Religulous, as having been given a “free pass” from the media “to attack people of faith.” What is most significant from this segment is not that O’Reilly in near obligatory fashion characterizes Maher as a primary threat to American Christianity, but that he admits that voices like Maher are winning on this divisive political issue. O’Reilly admits this openly, but what he does not admit is that, as recent trends suggest, the end is imminent for conservative analytical pretense.
Yes, the end is drawing nigh for cable news programs like the O’Reilly Factor, because for younger Americans political satire is in, and cable news sources are out. In one way, the shift can be attributed to the fact that young Americans, particularly Millennials, prefer getting their information from a variety of sources—absent traditional television news. The American Press Institute says “news and information are woven into an often continuous but mindful way that Millennials connect to the world generally, which mixes news with social connection, problem solving, social action, and entertainment.”
Political satirists have proven to be incredibly persuasive for Millennials as they evaluate and reevaluate their opinions of the political and legal framework in the United States. Jon Stewart led the charge for years as not “a journalist, but rather "more of an ombudsman" who judges the media's coverage of the pressing issues of the day.” His show was, by all means, developed through comedy, but what made him stand out from regular news commentators and attractive to Millennials was his form of delivery—analysis through humor. Stewart will be greatly missed by Millennials, but his departure is a void that is already being filled by new and soon-to-be late night comedy hosts such as Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon.
Maher fits into the Millennial dialogue similarly to Stewart, and arguably more directly, which is why O’Reilly has good reason to be worried. Maher was chosen by recent graduates at Berkeley as their commencement speaker, where he encouraged the students to “ask what is true” and to be proud of their liberal values by “own[ing] the First Amendment like Republicans own the Second.”
What can be learned from these media preferences is that Millennials, the generation that is transitioning into leadership roles for the first time, seem to be reviving an aspect of American history where progressive political satirists were at the centerfold of political debate, such as Mark Twain and Will Rogers.
Year after year, it is becoming clearer that the joke is really on you, Bill O’Reilly. Young Americans are growing tired of unjustified, narrow-minded, and spoon-fed political commentary. When it comes to the most important political and legal issues of the day, it might sound crazy, but we may just be looking to the comedians for true guidance.
Riley Coltrin (Staff Editor, Denver SELJ)