Don Yelton, the Republican party official in North Carolina who was forced to resign because of the stupid things he said to The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi made the usual excuse that his remarks had been ‘taken out of context’ and the interview edited to make him look bad.
Those criticisms are very likely true but that does not mean that he escapes culpability for what he said. That would be the case only if the editing was such as to make it appear that he said things that were very different from the things he actually said and conveyed the opposite impression.
In interview shows, to save costs the producers usually send just one camera crew. The interview is first done with the camera pointing at the interviewee. Then afterwards, the camera is shifted to look over the interviewee’s shoulder to point at the interviewer and the interviewer repeats the questions, sometimes even changing it to make it flow more smoothly or more pointed. They also take shots of the interviewer and interviewee just nodding or looking interested or other expressions. These shots are used to make the cuts smooth. So if someone makes a long statement and you want to cut out the middle portion, the cut becomes obvious and jarring if you see only the interviewee. So what they do is switch to the other person silently nodding at the point of the cut.
This is all pretty standard stuff. It is undoubtedly possible to take the raw footage and make the subject of the interview appear to say the opposite of what they meant. That is absolutely unethical but happens which is why one should be careful of giving interviews to people who have no scruples or else protect yourself by insisting on having your own recording done at the same time.
Bob Garfield of the radio program On the Media took provocateur James O’Keefe to task for doing such unethical editing and then in the last two minutes of tiss segment demonstrated how it can be done by re-editing that same interview to make O’Keefe appear to espouse views he did not hold.
In the case of The Daily Show, they sometimes show the cameras and it looks like they have two cameras rolling simultaneously, one over each person’s shoulder so there is less need for repeating things. But they still take reaction shots later and likely repeat segments when the first takes don’t go well. And since it is a comedy show, I expect that they take extra shots of the interviewer rolling their eyes, looking baffled and bemused and other things for comedic effect because although they assuredly pick people whom they think will say absurd things, they cannot know in advance when and how they are going to do so. Also a joke may occur to them only after the person has said something and they have to write and insert it.
So much of the comedic effect is obtained in the editing room by cutting and splicing and making the person more foolish. But I have never heard that they distort the interview to make the subject appear to say the opposite of what they meant. So if people accuse them of taking things out of context, they need to explain what the context is that made the offensive remarks seem innocuous.
UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Félix Desrochers-Guérin for this excellent clip of how things can be edited to make things more clear and concise or to distort and deceive.