Two unlikely allies — The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah and Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly — have unwittingly conspired, over the space of a week, to turn fringe right-wing commentator Tomi Lahren into a mainstream media star. Lahren, if you don’t already know, is the 24-year-old host of Tomi on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze network. She’s the one who has broken through that website’s clutter of mis-, dis-, and crypto-information with her blunt commentaries about — well, about how wrong every liberal is. She doesn’t mind playing fast and loose with invidious comparisons: These days, saying that Black Lives Matter is the reverse-race version of the Ku Klux Klan will get you far.
Which brings us to Trevor Noah. Still trying to find the tone of his version of The Daily Show, Noah has recently been trying out Concerned Healing. He invited Lahren on his Nov. 30 show, and their 14-minute chat has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube. (I also watched the extended, 26-minute version.) This is the kind of viral success Comedy Central has been praying for since Noah replaced Jon Stewart. Too bad it didn’t result in anything like a good conversation or debate. “Why are you so angry?” was Noah’s opening question after playing a clip of Lahren talking in what I heard as a rather calm, direct manner. You don’t need me to tell you that this is not a question a woman likes to hear from, or ought to be asked by, a man as his opening gambit.
Lahren’s TV style is to talk very fast, in sound bites that come across as simultaneously well-rehearsed and robotic. Which is how she answered everything Noah asked her. One of the few moments of semi-spontaneity — as when she told Noah she “doesn’t see color” — were met by the host with a joke: “What do you do at a traffic light?” As O’Reilly said when he played that clip, “Well, that was stupid.”
But the Noah-Lahren meeting was met with high praise in various precincts. Vulture headlined it “Trevor Noah Thoughtfully Confronts Tomi Lahren.” (Well, he challenged some of her previous statements, but he also let her slide when she evaded him.) Vox referred to Noah’s “patient, firm interviewing,” and said this was “one of Noah’s best segments to date.” What an excellent example of a backhanded compliment.
Some producer over at The O’Reilly Factor must have seen the numbers and media reaction that Noah got with Lahren and urged O’Reilly to Factor-ize her, and he did, on Wednesday night. Referring to The Daily Show as a “far-left program,” O’Reilly made sure to tell Lahren that Daily used to be hosted by Jon Stewart, and that he had been a guest on that version of the show a number of times. (Maybe Bill thought she hadn’t been born then.)
Yet O’Reilly could not understand why she went on The Daily Show. He asked Lahren to explain how she became famous, first telling her about his own rise from journalism school through local television to network news. (She smiled indulgently, as though she were listening to a boring, forgetful person.) Lahren then quickly told of her rise from college conservative to viral Internet phenom to Blaze-buster with a thing for hating on Colin Kaepernick.
After pointing out that the audience “mocked her,” he asked why she went on. Big surprise: Like O’Reilly, Lahren saw The Daily Show as a way to reach a different audience. As for the scattered boos and jeers? “You can’t expect them to play fair,” said Lahren. “You can’t expect any liberal show or comedy show from the mainstream media to be fair.” They parted amicably in agreement. See? From “far-left” to “fair and balanced,” Lahren is going mainstream.
Tomi airs weeknights at 7 p.m. on TheBlaze. The Daily Show airs weeknights at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central. The O’Reilly Factor airs weeknights at 8 p.m. on Fox News.