No one really needed a study to know that Donald Trump has become the most ridiculed president in the modern history of late-night television. But it helps to have some numbers to back that up. More important than statistics is bitingly personal tone of so many of the jokes, far more brutal than the gentle jabs of the past. In the era of Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, presidents of both parties were tweaked and parodied, but you didn’t have the sense of ideological fervor that prevails today. David Letterman was openly left-leaning, but rarely seemed to be on a crusade. The culture became increasingly crude, of course, thanks in part to the web, and more partisan, fueled in part by Comedy Central. But if you look at today’s late-night lineup, they’re almost all Trump-bashers. Stephen Colbert is in the lead, but there’s also Seth Meyers, John Oliver, Samantha Bee (who did that anti-Trump show on the night of the White House Correspondents Dinner), Trevor Noah (trying to escape Jon Stewart’s shadow) and Jimmy Kimmel (who skewered Trump when he hosted the Oscars). The only exception is the apolitical Jimmy Fallon, and he was denounced for tousling Trump’s hair during a playful campaign interview. The result, as Carley Shimkus put it on yesterday’s “Media Buzz,” is that Hollywood won’t let Fallon “sit at the cool kids’ table.” Now comes George Mason University with a report that Trump was the target of 1,060 late-night zingers in his first months in office. That was higher than Barack Obama (936), George W. Bush (546) and Bill Clinton (440) during a comparable period. Politics, you may recall, used to be a much smaller component of these shows. What’s more, Trump is on pace to break Clinton’s record of 1,717 jokes in 1998, the year of Monica and impeachment. We are in a different world indeed when Colbert can make a gratuitously offensive oral sex joke about Trump and Vladimir Putin, offer a weak non-apology and face only a minor wave of criticism. Keep in mind that Colbert’s renewed barrage of anti-Trump humor, including bringing back his Comedy Central blowhard character, lifted him from last place to first in the ratings. Kimmel, as you probably know, gave a teary monologue about how doctors had saved his newborn son, born with a heart defect. But he added criticism of Trump budget cuts and a pitch for ObamaCare, sparking criticism that he had politicized a tragedy. It would have been better if he had separated the two. Still, it was striking to hear lawmakers talk about how the legislation has to pass “the Kimmel test” of covering babies who need life-saving medical treatment. With Trump utterly dominating the news, it may not be a shock that he’s such a big fat target in late night TV. And given the left-leaning ethos of the entertainment world, the fact that nearly all the hosts are ganging up on the president may not be surprising either. Trump may have single-handedly revived the career of Alec Baldwin. I don’t mind bawdy stuff, but we’ve come a long way from the days when the late Don Rickles was as risqué as it got in late night. But I do miss the age of equal opportunity insults, and most of these shows have become unfriendly terrain for conservative viewers.
Agreed!! And well said, Howard. Veteran journalist Howard Kurtz is responsible for that outstanding op/ed.