CBS Newser Turned Daily Show Reporter: ‘(It Became) Mainstream Media Itself’

By Mark Joyella 

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Brian Unger, a former producer at CBS News, recalls the day nearly 20 years ago when he arrived for work at his new job–one of the original cast members of The Daily Show.

“I saw the crystallization of the enormous mistake I had made, and even more, the sin I had committed—leaving real news for entertainment, an irreversible career trajectory that would forever transform me into an untrustworthy, unfaithful, unhireable clown.”

Writing at Slate, Unger describes how cable news was still a new idea:

Fox News and MSNBC were toddlers compared with old stalwart CNN, who provided us with the most bounty. We ridiculed its packaging of news, its graphics, its shows.

We satirized people in the news with first-world problems in a segment called “American Victim.” We went after all of television news, local and national, because no one else was doing it, and in those early years, we got to the low-hanging fruit first.

Unger left The Daily Show just weeks before Jon Stewart arrived as host. He says in the years that followed, “I couldn’t believe that this scrappy little cable TV show on Comedy Central, tearing the guts out of mainstream media nightly, had become the mainstream media itself.” Still Unger is not surprised Stewart is leaving:

I remember feeling so pissed that TV news had become such a commodity and so sensational. But mostly, I just felt tired. Now, it’s hard to care so much. MSNBC’s ratings are often smaller than my local public radio station’s and my 16-year-old niece, India, has no idea what the Situation Room is. In 2015, when so few people actually watch live TV on broadcast or cable, raging at cable news can feel like kicking a dead horse.