A two-part report aired yesterday on the US comedy program The Daily Show skewers the US for cutting off funding to the United Nations education and cultural organization UNESCO after the UN body admitted Palestine as a member state last year.
The Daily Show host Jon Stewart introduces the report by correspondent John Oliver, describing it as “A field piece so epic, it cannot be contained in only one segment, so there will be no guest tonight”
In the first segment, US Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Florida) defends cutting off funding to UNESCO, giving the standard line that Israelis and Palestinians must directly negotiate. “If the Palestinians go directly to the UN or any of its agencies, we’re not going to fund those agencies,” Wexler says.
Oliver then gives Wexler a high-five, saying, “Send a message!”
“Well we did send a message,” a jovial Wexler replies.
“Boom! Suck it, UNESCO! Suck it!” Oliver says exuberantly, as Wexler begins to look uncomfortable.
The segment then focuses on the twenty-year-old law that prohibits the US government from funding any UN agency that admits the Palestine Liberation Organization as a member state.
Wexler then blames UNESCO for creating this “unfortunate situation,” and tells Oliver to go talk to them. Oliver does just that, interviewing UNESCO’s Washington liaison, George Papagiannis who discusses the impact of the US cutting off funding on the agency’s work.
The segment then returns to Rep. Wexler, who acknowledges that the US is cutting off funding to UNESCO projects that are complementary to US interests. “But we’re sending a point, and the point is we have interests, we set up a law, we warned you,” the congressman says, adding that it’s meant to send a message to other UN agencies.
“Right, and when you physically cut off your nose to spite your face, you’re sending a message,” Oliver replies. “And that message is don’t fuck with me. Because if I’m willing to do this to myself, what am I willing to do to you?”
Wexler continues to justify the policy by saying that no other UN agency has made the same move as UNESCO, “at least not yet.”
The segment cuts back to the interview with Papagiannis, who says that the African country Gabon has pledged $2 million to plug the gap.
The second segment finds John Oliver in Gabon, where he travels in mock anger to “confront these tyrannical philanthropists face to face.” There he meets the president’s press secretary to tell him that “little countries like America are tired of being pushed around by international heavies like Gabon.”
“This is classic Gabonese imperialism,” Oliver tells Maxime Poupy, national director of the Gabon Press Agency.
Oliver also visits a UNESCO-funded project in Gabon, where he informs small children that “Once upon a time, twenty years ago, there was a US congressional law that outlawed funding to any UN organization that allowed Palestine as a member. And that is why you cannot have books anymore.”
“Israel and Palestine must negotiate directly, or else it just doesn’t count,” he tells the children.
Cutting back to Wexler, who says that US Congress is not going to overturn the law, Oliver says, “We’re not going to do this, because we’re dicks.”
“We didn’t create the problem, but we did create the law,” Wexler contends. “We are the good guys here.”
But back at The Daily Show news desk, Jon Stewart tells Oliver, “It seems like the real loser in this is the United States.”
“And obviously Palestine,” Oliver replies.
Meanwhile, on the “real” news programs
The Daily Show two-part report on the US’ shortsighted, bullying move to cut off UNESCO funding does effectively satirize this harmful policy, but it is not without its faults. There’s no context of how the US has historically acted as Israel’s lawyer at the UN, or that it funds Israel’s occupation, and the report indulges in US chauvinist narratives and treats Africa as a giant monolith where all children are starving and in need of foreign assistance.
But the bit may be most remarkable when compared to the total pandering to policy-makers and the powerful that is uniformly found on the major networks.
Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald — who has his work cut out for him as one of the few high-profile journalists willing to question US policy and hold power accountable — observed on his blog late last month that Pentagon propagandist Gen. Barry McCaffrey is once again briefing NBC executives on war with Iran.
And meanwhile, on CBS’s 60 Minutes, “journalist” Leslie Stahl actually gives advice to Meir Dagan, former head of the Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad, on specific ways Israel can attack Iran.
The fact that yesterday’s The Daily Show report resonates with people concerned about Palestinian rights probably says more about the mainstream corporate media than it does about the politics or writing on The Daily Show.