Comedian Jim Jefferies shot a segment with Avi Yemeni last fall, and aired it this past week on his episode about the Christchurch massacre. Following the episode, the season premiere of the third season “The Jim Jefferies Show,” Yemeni, a controversial Australian Jewish activist who speaks out against Islam and religious indoctrination, released clips from his own recording of the interview he gave Jefferies. It turns out that, while Jefferies’ team shot the interview, Yemeni had set his phone to secretly record, in anticipation of his words being edited out of context. Turns out no one really trusts anyone anymore.
Deadline Hollywood reports that the show, now in its 3rd season on Comedy Central, is a “weekly, topical, late night series featuring the Australian comedian’s unapologetic, honest and international approach to culture and politics. Jefferies tackles the week’s top stories from behind the desk and travels the globe to far-off locations to provide unique looks at hypocrisy around the world.”
One of many faux news comedy shows gracing the late night airwaves, Jefferies show takes aim at international and American culture from a progressive bent, leaving little room for opposition views. Yemeni, on the other hand, is a far right activist who the Australian Jewish community holds at arms-length due to his extremist views about immigration and Islam.
According to Yemeni, “The Jim Jefferies Show” flew him to Singapore for an interview a few months ago, and then misused his words, linking the interview to the Christchurch massacre. Comparison of the footage shot by Jefferies’ team and that from Yemeni’s phone show that some of the questions asked were aired with answers Yemeni gave to different questions.
Is this unethical? If so, it is certainly not uncommon, and Jefferies’ show, much of it played for laughs, is not entirely a news broadcast. However, while not endorsing or defending Yemeni’s activist work, there is a question as to why Jefferies’ team would feel justified in taking Yemeni’s answers out of context, when in fact his original answers to the questions are damaging enough to his perspective. From the look of the edited tape, it was to be funny. What Yemeni’s complete, secretly recorded video reveals though, is that Jefferies is a hypocrite who mocked Islam himself and even drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed in an attempt to egg Yemeni on.
Jefferies show would not be on the air if it didn’t have what Comedy Central co-heads of talent and development Sarah Babineau and Jonas Larsen call his “unfiltered, insightful, hilarious and global comedic perspective on the insane world we’re living in right now,” according to Deadline. Understanding that Jefferies’ mandate is more comedy than newsiness gets to the heart of why this misedit would feel permissible.
Take a look at a Season 2 episode called “Truth, Lies and Spin,” in which Jefferies sat down in a very newsy looking interview with noted journalist April Ryan and asked her about her multi-administration experience with the White House Press Corps. “Do you think the term ‘fake news’ is dangerous?” He asked her.
“Yes, very dangerous,” Ryan replied. “When people do not believe the press, it puts a target on our heads.”
It’s during this episode that Jefferies heads to the White House himself, and talks to former press secretary Sean Spicer. He asks “what’s the difference between lying and spinning?”
Spicer answers “lying is when it’s a demonstrably false statement… I think spinning is putting your version on the truth.”
“Could that be perceived as a lie, then?” Leads Jefferies. And the segment cuts to a montage of Spicer’s many perceived, intentional mistruths or spins, with Jefferies jokey, Aussie disapproval.
But Jefferies must have taken Spicer’s words to heart, because what he did when he edited Yemeni’s responses was to put his own spin on the truth. He needed to show that religious extremism is not localized in any one religion, and that hatred of the other exists across racial and ethnic groups.
The truth is, of course, that it does. No one has to go to great lengths to show that people hate other people for lots of really stupid, baseless reasons. So too, is it true that this animosity fuels aggression, discrimination, and willful bias. Taking pains to edit a man’s given interview in order to make him sound worse than he already does simply for the laughs distorts the otherwise reasonable cause of exposing extremist ideas for the garbage they are.
It’s a little surprising how myopic Jefferies is about the contradiction between the editing approach and the ideas he purports to believe in his monologue about the horror of Christchurch and it’s fallout. In the season premiere, Season 3 episode “The Rise of White Nationalism,” he says:
“The scariest thing about the Christchurch tragedy is how it was designed for an internet audience. This guy tweeted about the attack, quoted internet memes, and live streamed the shooting on facebook. That video was reposted over a million times, and facebook, youtube, and twitter are still struggling to control it.
“Here’s the thing, if you have the impulse to repost a video of people being murdered, maybe don’t. It’s not a free speech issue. It’s a don’t be a fucking sociopath issue. Think about this, if you have a particular point of view and you have to go on anonymous internet forums to talk about it because you can’t actually say it out loud in public you already know what you believe isn’t right. Try and stay off extremist message boards and you’ll be happier.
“Your family might talk to you again. You won’t be so angry all the time. And I know this sounds overly simplistic, but instead of getting red-pilled, maybe we should take inspiration from another Keanu Reeves movie, and just be excellent to each other.”
Perhaps Jefferies should take Keanu’s words to heart, and be excellent, even to those with whom he does not agree, or maybe especially to his ideological opposites. It is in misrepresenting the views of our opposition that those views, and the people who hold them, are given credence.