PETA on The Daily Show: A Win or Loss?

OK, Daily Disruptors: I need some help with this one.

We know that most social movement organizations seek media attention, at least some of the time, for a variety of reasons. We also know that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is rather effective at using attention-grabbing (if often controversial and heavily criticized) techniques for getting media attention; they pride themselves on it. Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t avoid regularly hearing about what PETA is up to these days.

With that in mind, I’m trying to interpret this piece that appeared on The Daily Show in mid-February.

In it, Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac takes a satirical cut at PETA’s recent lawsuit filed on behalf of five of SeaWorld’s orca whales. The lawsuit declares the whales are slaves, putting SeaWorld in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment which outlaws slavery.

I would say Cenac’s report makes PETA look pretty bad. In a generous viewing, they seem… insensitive. In a critical one, they seem racist. At the very least, I can’t imagine this is what they had in mind when they agreed to do the interview.

But here’s where I get at little stuck. Even though PETA comes out of the report with egg on its face, does that mean this is a “loss” for PETA? If you were a PETA staff member, what would you have said when you watched it the first time? Or, if you were a researcher trying to code this media mention, how would you code it?

  1. “Awesome! We just got 5 full minutes of free air time for one of our issues on a super-popular TV show!” [Code: Media Win]
  2. “Oh no… we look like racists… during Black History Month… on a super-popular TV show… epic fail…” [Code: Media Loss]
  3. “[your response here]”




Filed under Daily Disruption

3 responses to “PETA on The Daily Show: A Win or Loss?

  1. My read on PETA has always been that they occupy the fringe so that other animal rights groups can look reasonable in comparison.


  2. Amy Jonason

    Hard to say – negative attention is still attention, and PETA seems to love attention of all kinds.


  3. Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

    What a great post/question. I was wondering this same thing as Wyatt S. brought the slavery analogy home.

    My sense is that in the short term this is a failure. But, that this doesn’t hurt PETA since previous strategies have sufficiently dichotomous public opinion on the organization and its tactics. You’re either down for some faux blood property damage, or you’re not. Supporters are embarrassed for their friend, haters are proved right, yet again. #lowcostfail

    But in the longer-term is where this strategy shines. It’s takes really crazy things like this lawsuit to shift discourse. Even getting made fun of by the Daily Show shifts the issue from nothingness to somethingness. Rochon (1998) says it’s “critical communities” that have the guts to make these sorts of big moves (the 13th Amendment to protect animals, really?), that only later can be seen as part of a much larger cultural shift (whether it is cause or effect is something Rochon never quite sorted out). So, supporter or hater, all of a sudden you’re wondering what kind of rights animals have … if the Constitution is for “we the people” what is for the rest of the non-human species we share the earth with. What a corrosive question! #longtermpayout

    I’d say it was worth it for PETA. Not for the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society.


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