Why Late Night Is Excelling Where Journalism Is Failing
I spent a lot of time yesterday bitching about how poorly the journalists, in particular, and the media in general are adapting to the Trump campaign. Then I spent the rest of the day debating with myself about whether that was fair. Journalism is, in fact, responding to consumer needs. If consumers demand waterskiing squirrels and functional alcoholism, then who are they to tell us we’re wrong?
But it was actually a quote attempting to defend Matt Lauer’s atrocious performance that convinced me otherwise. On this week’s episode of Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me (obligatory), Luke Burbank said that Lauer was trying to pitch a softball game while Trump was throwing a cantaloupe at a Prius and declaring he’d won. It’s an apt analogy.
Except that Lauer should be umping that softball game, not pitching it. If Lauer were actually acting like an umpire when Trump started throwing melons around, Lauer would be able to say, “Hey, what the fuck are you doing? Are you drunk? That’s not the game we’re playing, and I think you’re breaking the law. Get the fuck out of here.” Instead, Lauer saw the pieces of melon and car window, and said, “Yeah, I think that was a strike.”
Late night TV and comedy, though, thrive on telling people about absurd things. They make entire careers talking about the absurdity of the mundane, and comparing politicians to crooks and fools. So when we got a candidate who was legitimately a crook and a fool, comedy was ready. Comedy, unlike journalism, understands that dealing in absurdity doesn’t make you absurd. Journalists don’t seem interested in researching issues and giving accurate information about them, thereby exposing the larger truth. Comedians are more than up for the job, and they’re goddamn funny while they’re doing it. For that reason alone, I might actually miss this election cycle when it’s done.