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An IR View: No, Comedy Central, Helena is not a tiny, Trump-loving cowtown

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If The Daily Show is your primary source of news, you might think of Helena as a tiny, Trump-loving cowtown where cowboy culture still reigns supreme.

The Comedy Central program’s latest segment on Helena opens with host Roy Wood Jr. rolling into Montana’s “tiny capital of Helena” sporting a big belt buckle and brown vest that seems better suited for a John Wayne film. The host sits down with Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins in what the viewer can only assume is a local watering hole, The Rusty Horseshoe Saloon, which appears to be an old western bar in the secluded countryside where the mountains meet the plains.

Wood and Collins later grabbed their cowboy hats and set out into an open field atop a pair of trusty steeds. As the two ride horses far from any hint of civilization, the host continues to press our Liberian-refugee-turned-mayor on how he was able to win an election in “a city filled with Trump-loving white people.”

A couple things…

The Rusty Horseshoe Saloon is not in Helena and doesn’t appear to be a real bar.

If you see someone in Helena wearing a cowboy hat and riding a horse, you’re probably at a parade.

Helena is either Montana’s fifth or sixth largest city, depending on the population measure you use.

In the 2016 presidential election, Helena favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a margin of 63-37 percent.

Wood was also at the state Capitol in March for a Daily Show segment mocking a pro-gun rally attended by about 150 people, without mentioning that the March For Our Lives held the same day drew more than 1,000 to a park across town. 

So it’s safe to say that the way The Daily Show characterizes Helena has consistently been a little – off.

That’s not necessarily a problem in itself, as long as the show does not claim to be anything more than entertainment. As the show’s then-host Jon Stewart famously said on CNN’s “Crossfire” in 2004, “The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

The problem is when audiences mistake satire like The Daily Show for legitimate news. And while it's pretty clear that Comedy Central exists mainly to make people laugh (hence the name), others who publish questionable information can have more ambiguous intentions. 

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions offers these helpful tips for spotting fake news:

  • Check the site and author to determine whether the story is intended to be a joke.
  • Consider the mission of the source, and check its website and contact info.
  • Read beyond the headline to get the whole story.
  • Investigate whether the author is real and credible.
  • Check the sources to determine whether they support the story.
  • Check the date of the story to determine whether it is relevant to current events.
  • Consult a librarian or a fact-checking site.
  • Consider whether your own biases could affect your judgment.

There’s certainly a time and a place for political satire and entertainment like The Daily Show, but it’s important to be able to distinguish that from the real news.


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