September 11, 2013

The Daily Show Comes to Cornell, Features AEM Professor

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Fans of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart may notice a familiar face on an upcoming segment of the political comedian’s show — that of Prof. Christopher Barrett, applied economics and management.

On Monday, The Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams interviewed Barrett in the School of Industrial Relations’ Doherty Lounge for a segment on President Barack Obama’s proposed reforms to international food aid, according to Barrett.

Obama’s proposal, an amendment within the farm bill, promotes using more locally grown food in poor countries and eliminating a requirement that food aid must be grown in the U.S. and transported on U.S.-flagged ships, according to a press release from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Supporters of reform say the Food Aid Reform Act will “enable U.S. food aid worldwide to reach more people, more quickly, at less expense,” according to the press release.

Barrett said he thinks The Daily Show selected him for its segment because he is a prominent academic in the field of food aid. According to Barrett, some of the proposals being discussed by Congress now are based on recommendations that his research has supported.

“I have done research in this area for 20 years, and I have written a couple of books, lots of journal articles and presented research findings on the Hill and to various agencies around the world on this topic,” Barrett said.

Barrett added that he felt his perspective was less politically invested than those of other people who could have been interviewed for the segment.

“[The Daily Show] seemed to be looking for an objective outside expert,” Barrett said.

Representatives from The Daily Show contacted him about a month ago about filming this segment with Williams after the show’s three-month summer hiatus, Barrett said.

Barrett said Williams was “extremely sharp,” “gracious and kind” and “extremely funny.”

“She was able to say outrageous things with a straight face,” Barrett said.

The taping took almost four hours to complete, Barrett said.

“It takes a long time to shoot because they are so meticulous about the production details, and it’s so hard to keep a straight face during the interview,” he said.

Though Barrett says he and Williams had “lots of laughs” while taping the segment, he said he got to speak “quite seriously on some important issues.”

“[Food Aid] is a serious topic obviously, but [the correspondents] are very talented and very funny,” Barrett said.

Barrett said he hopes that the clip, though shown in a comical light, could encourage Congress to reform food aid.

“Jon Stewart’s demographic is on the more democratic end. This segment could energize viewers to get in Democrats that might be in support of the president’s proposals to contact their elected representatives and swing their votes,” Barrett said. “We are pretty close to seeing these changes enacted — the balance could be tipped by a cultural icon like Jon Stewart.”

According to studies co-authored by Barrett and other Cornell faculty, students and staff, proposed changes to the country’s food aid program could reduce the time and expense of aiding other countries.

The issue, while relatively non-partisan, faces an “unusual coalition of opponents,” Barrett said.

The initial legislation was narrowly defeated with 203 votes for the amendment and 220 against, although Barrett said that future proposals and amendments could meet more success.

“It’s reasonably encouraging, but we’re not there yet,” Barrett said.

Students expressed excitement about The Daily Show’s decision to tape at Cornell.

“I’ll definitely watch the episode when it airs. I think The Daily Show is hilarious, and it’s always great to see Cornell get media coverage,” Hope Walker ’15 said.

Students also shared Barrett’s hope that The Daily Show’s coverage of the proposed food aid policy will give the issue more attention.

“I hope that Jon Stewart featuring this issue will bring it to the public’s attention. Food Aid isn’t something that gets a lot of attention from people, but it would be great if this segment galvanized people’s energy towards contacting their leaders in Congress,” Nick Rawlinson ’16 said.

Barrett’s interview was not the first time The Daily Show has interacted with Cornell. Jon Stewart appeared in front of sold-out audiences in Bailey Hall in 2001 and Barton Hall in 2005 and 2011. John Oliver, another correspondent for The Daily Show, performed in Bailey Hall in 2012, The Sun previously reported.

USAID Administrator Raj Shah, the Administration’s chief spokesperson for the proposed reforms, will be interviewed Wednesday for the segment, according to Barrett. He added that Tony Munoz, Editor-in-Chief of The Maritime Executive, may also be featured as an opposing viewpoint in the segment, which should air in an episode within the next few weeks.