|LATE NIGHT NEWS|
August 17, 2000
A recent study shows increasing numbers of people get their political news from late night television.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
JAY LENO: They're moving all the trees away from the Staples Center. I guess one of the workmen accidentally grabbed Al Gore by the ankles.
DAVID LETTERMAN: Everybody's excited about Joe Lieberman.. As a matter of act, CBS is developing a new show for the fall, "Touched by a Rabbi."
TERENCE SMITH: Television's late-night comedians are tickling the national funny bone this election year with a steady diet of biting political humor. Nothing is sacred and the comics are equal-opportunity offenders.
JON STEWART: Well, the Republican Party descended on Philadelphia and ushered in a new century. Unfortunately, it was the 18th century.
BILL MAHER: There is no arguing the fact that as of today, Gore trails Bush by 17 points and in a related news item, at the box office this weekend, "The Nutty Professor" is running far ahead of "The Hollow Man."
JOHNNY CARSON: -- over 105 in Los Angeles.
JOHNNY CARSON: Under the Reagan plan how old will you have to be to collect Social Security?
|Satire without context|
TERENCE SMITH: Politics has long provided grist for the late-night mill, but political comedy is a bumper crop this election year.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the star of "Politically Incorrect," Bill Maher.
TERENCE SMITH: Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" has found a network audience on ABC.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on "The Daily Show," from the Staples Center in beautiful downtown Los Angeles, it's the 43rd Quadrennial Democratic Convention.
TERENCE SMITH: And "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has become a popular feature on Comedy Central, the cable channel. Its comedian "correspondents" poke fun at politicians, the media, and themselves.
NANCY WALLS, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Vance, what are you doing?
VANCE DeGENERES, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Innuendo.
TERENCE SMITH: The public is not only laughing, it's listening. A recent Pew Research center survey shows that some 50 percent of those questioned say they regularly or sometimes glean information about the candidates from late night comedy. Among respondents under 30, that number rises to nearly 80 percent.
STEVE CARELL, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: It's an incredibly scary statistic, if you don't know what the news is and aren't up on your current events, then doing any sort of satire, there's no context to put the satire in, so I think that's a bit scary.
NANCY WALLS: I've had a lot of younger people come up to me and say we're their sole source of news, which is frightening.
TERENCE SMITH: I would think so.
NANCY WALLS: But we never make news up, I mean, we're telling them the truth with just with a comedic twist.
TERENCE SMITH: But Senator Bob Kerrey, a guest on "The Daily Show" this week, is not sure it's the end of civilization as we know it.
SEN. BOB KERREY: Humor, at its best, enables us to laugh at ourselves, so that we understand that we have certain frailties and vulnerabilities and so we don't get so full of ourselves that we don't understand that somebody else might have a pretty good idea too.
TERENCE SMITH: It may be a dubious honor, but George W. Bush is currently leading Al Gore as the butt of late-night jokes. According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, Bush has been the target of 290 jokes so far this year, Gore 179. President Clinton is ahead of them both with 479 jokes at his expense.
GUEST: Republican Congress, Bill Clinton --.
GUEST: Gridlock. They do nothing. Politicians can't screw anything up.
TERENCE SMITH: Bill Maher maintains comedy can serve a serious purpose.
BILL MAHER: I define cynical as being able to see through people who are putting one over on you. Comedians in general, make their living calling liars on their lies. Well, needless to say, that if you want liar targets, there's nothing better than a political season and people running for the highest office of the land, because the lies just get bigger.
HOWARD MORTMAN, The National Journal: I think it's fair. I mean, I think it's a legitimate way to get information because they otherwise wouldn't know what is happening.
TERENCE SMITH: Howard Mortman monitors the late night shows for the National Journal's Hotline.
HOWARD MORTMAN: The problem is a lot of time comedians in their set up of jokes have to make stuff up; they have to make up a fact or misrepresent a fact in order to get the punch line they're looking for. So, yes I think it's a valid way of information for young people to know about politics, but they have to be careful because there really is no filter.
|Politicians: the butt of the joke|
|TERENCE SMITH: For the candidates and their families, a
turn on the couch of a late-night set offers great exposure, especially
to younger audiences.
JAY LENO (to Hillary Clinton): Let's say now, you and Chelsea, you're sitting down, you're having a conversation. Let's say Chelsea says, "You know, Mom, those Republicans have some good ideas."
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I would miss her a lot.
JAY LENO: Really? (Laughter and applause)
JAY LENO: How did you deal with the Secret Service?
KARENNA GORE: Well, yeah, sure -- we try to lose them as much as possible.
JAY LENO: Is it possible to ditch them?
KARENNA GORE: We found ways.
KRISTIN GORE: My mom is actually good at that.
JAY LENO: Yeah?
TERENCE SMITH: David Letterman says candidates are well advised to pay late night dues.
DAVID LETTERMAN: Governor, I want to remind you of one thing. The road to Washington runs through me. You're aware of that, aren't you?
TERENCE SMITH: But those appearances can backfire as well. George W. Bush got bad reviews when he appeared via satellite on the "Late Show" and laid an egg.
DAVID LETTERMAN: You keep saying -- you're a uniter, not a divider, -- "I'm a uniter, not a divider," you say that, isn't that correct?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: That's true.
DAVID LETTERMAN: Now, what exactly does that mean?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: That means when it comes time to sew up your chest cavity, we use stitches, as opposed to opening it up, is what that means. (Nervous laughter) (boos)
TERENCE SMITH: Ridicule can be a lethal weapon in politics, says Bill Maher.
BILL MAHER: When a guy gets a reputation, it's bad, bad news for that politician because comedians are just going to reinforce that stereotype because that butters their bread.
TERENCE SMITH: Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" says politics is an irresistible topic for comedians.
JON STEWART: I think there is always comic fodder in bad theater, and especially bad theater that has a mandate to matter and not be superficial. I don't think we're necessarily making fun of individuals, we're making fun of more of a process than anything else.
TERENCE SMITH: And with the campaign about to hit full stride, David Letterman is pushing the envelope one step further: he's invited the two candidates to come on his show to debate just before the election, raising the political stakes for late night comedy.
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