If you’re wondering how it is that the Washington Redskins’ team name change is even still a debate, you’re not alone. Pressure on the team has been steadily mounting this year, and one of the most compelling pressure points has been a September segment from The Daily Show, which featured fans of the team duly explaining the hardship that a name-change would be for them, and being confronted by a group of Native Americans who oppose the name.
Even before the segment aired, it was controversial, as the fans complained to The Washington Post that they were surprised by producers, who they say sprang the confrontation with activists on them. One of the fans even said she felt “in danger,” and tried to file a police report days later. When the segment aired, Stewart addressed that report in the intro, saying, “If we find out that someone in a piece was intentionally misled, or if their comments were intentionally misrepresented, we do not air that piece, we would not air that piece. So with that being said, I hope you enjoy the following piece.”
It was a seemingly defiant and ballsy response to carping by people who, in that very segment, explicitly said they “need to be sitting down and talking to the people who actually are offended.”
Yet it was obvious, from watching that segment, that much was left out, and in a recent interview with New Yorkmagazine, Jon Stewart confirmed that what made it to air was missing some significant material. Asked if he was wrong to ambush the fans, he replied,
I wouldn’t call it an ambush. We don’t lie to people and say we’re not The Daily Show or “This won’t happen” or things like that. I even said on the show if we found out that these people had been intentionally misled, that segment wouldn’t have aired. That’s not the case. I’ll tell you where there was a real ambush — when the Native Americans went to the stadium and people said the most vile shit to them. The ugliness that arose was mind-numbing. So for the story to be these poor people, the Redskins fans, who sat in a room and had to then talk to the Native Americans… I don’t understand the weird defensiveness. We all live in a country built on this very devastating scenario with the people who were already living here. That’s our original Manifest Destiny sin. In some ways, by accepting the flaws, the progress that we’ve made is more impressive.
Some of the “vile shit” that Stewart is referring to was described by Migizi Pensoneau, one of the members of the Native American comedy troupe the 1491s, and included one fan threatening, “I’ll fucking cut you,” as well as:
…the man blowing cigar smoke in my face, the man who mockingly yelled, “Thanks for letting us use your name!”, the group who yelled at us to “go the fuck home,” the little waif who threatened to cut me, the dude who blew the train horn on his truck as I walked by the hood.
That all sounds pretty compelling, and some of it was corroborated by that Washington Post report, but none of it made it into the show. Neither did most of the confrontation between the fans and the activists, despite the fact that Jason Jones confirmed in the segment, and WaPo confirmed with Daily Show producers, that the show had signed releases for everything they shot.
No one has offered an explanation for why the most explosive footage from the segment was left out of the report, or not even posted online, as The Daily Show does with segments like its extended Bill O’Reilly interview. There could be an entirely innocent explanation for it. Maybe it was a stylistic choice, or maybe it was a tradeoff for not showing a confrontation that might not reflect well on the show. But the effect is to obscure something that could have had a great impact on the issue, and the appearance is of producers trying to spare the feelings, or the ire, of some racist assholes.
In any case, if they’re not going to show the footage they left on the cutting-room floor, then Stewart really has no business bringing it up in an interview, because New York magazine readers can’t view the footage and judge for themselves. Since he has brought it up, it only seems fair to those Washington football fans that The Daily Show release that footage so they can clear their names. Even if that means blurring their faces.