Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," hosted by Jon Stewart, is an entertaining fake news program, but surveys show many Americans trust him and his show's reporting and get their information from the show.
Earlier this week, "The Daily Show" ran a piece on California's initiative process (embedded below) that was full of errors and distortions -- none of which were necessary to get the easy laughs that any accurate portrayal of the process would get.
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You might think errors like this don't matter, but they do. Californians are already so badly misinformed about how their state works that they don't need popular comedy shows making the situation worse.
Here are the top five errors in a piece full of them:
1. You can't put anything on the ballot in California and make it law with 500,000 signatures.
This is uncomfortably close to the truth, but there actually are a number of limits on statutes in California -- including the state constitution. And there's a single-subject rule that limits initiatives to one subject. There should be other restrictions -- I'd love to see requirements that initiatives live within the budget and respect human rights -- but it's wrong to say there are none.
2. Prop 13 "mandates property taxes can't be raised."
As Prop Zero readers know, your blogger is no fan of Prop 13. But this is bunk. Property taxes can be raised and have been raised in California. Prop 13 limits how quickly they can go up. And it determines who can raise them and how -- local voters can raise them, by supermajority votes.
3. Prop 98 guaranteed money for schools and Prop 13 took it away.
It was the opposite actually. Prop 98 was passed 10 years after Prop 13 -- as part of an effort to guarantee certain funds for schools after Prop 13 and court decisions limited taxes and centralized tax dollars in Sacramento. Prop 98 is treated as some sort of good thing for schools. In fact, it's been at best ineffective and at worst a disaster for schools, with California falling far behind in school funding compared to other states since it's passage. (The real lesson of Prop 98 is that when you take a popular program -- like schools out of the political debate, that program isn't protected -- it gets hurt).
4. Amazon used the initiative process to stop itself from being taxed.
Amazon used the process -- but its effort failed. It didn't qualify the measure mentioned in the piece-- and agreed to a compromise under which it will begin paying sales taxes next year (The Daily Show reports, incorrectly, that the company won't pay sales taxes next year). How'd the show get this wrong? The piece appears to have been reported months ago and held until Monday night.
5. Only an initiative can stop another initiative.
It's true that California is the only state where a law passed by initiative can't be changed except by another vote of the people. But The Daily Show goes further and gets it wrong--by saying another initiative, with signatures is required. The legislature can put measures on the ballot that change initiatives.
And of course, the state could change initiatives by revising the constitution -- through a commission or convention, which is precisely what the state needs.
What did the show get right? It revealed the anti-immigrant cynicism of a California assemblyman, Tim Donnelly, who confesses that he can blame undocumented immigrants for just about anything.
It demonstrated that California Democratic Party chairman John Burton, who is shown repeatedly swearing, is not ready for prime time. (If there were real elections and political competition in California, the Democrats couldn't get away with having Burton as their face).