Republicans Are Funny
FOX is running a banner headline: Late-Night Comics Skewer Republicans 7-to-1, Study Finds.
The Center for Media and Public Affairs, a media analysis group, kept a tally of jokes told about the presidential contenders on the “Late Show” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in the five weeks after McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate and vaulted the little-known Alaska governor into the national spotlight. The total: Republicans, 286. Democrats, 42.
“Generally the Republicans get targeted much more often than Democrats, but this election is driving it off the charts,” said CMPA Executive Director Donald Rieck.
Letterman and Leno told 106 jokes about McCain and 180 about Palin in the 25 shows that aired between Aug. 29, when McCain chose her, and Oct. 2, the date of the vice presidential debate.
Barack Obama, who may be Leno’s guest next week, was targeted only 26 times — barely once a night. His gaffe-prone running mate, Joe Biden, who is scheduled to appear on Leno Thursday night, was hit only 16 times, not even one-tenth the number of jokes told about Palin over the five-week period.
Now, this could be somewhat anomalous. Obviously, as Rieck notes in the story, “Palin’s just a bonanza for these guys. You have a woman who shoots wolves from a helicopter; whether she’s a Democrat or Republican, that’s just a bonanza. Biden’s kind of boring compared to that, isn’t he?” And, indeed, the simple fact that she’s fresh on the scene makes her a more likely target.
Further, while I almost never watch these shows, I’m aware that Letterman has been dogging McCain for blowing off his show to perpetrate the “I’m suspending my campaign to fix the economy” stunt. How much that skews the count, I don’t know.
Fox’s report quotes Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University: “He is kind of a comedian’s worst nightmare. He doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t fall down like Gerald Ford did. He’s not filled with scandal and isn’t a sexual player like Clinton was. He doesn’t misspell words like Dan Quayle did. The size of his ears is about all they have to work with.”
Tim Graham, director of media analysis for Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, tells Fox, “There is a racial minefield that they’re trying to avoid. I think they see Obama as a historic figure, and because he’s a historic figure it’s like making jokes about Martin Luther King.”
Maybe. And maybe there’s some liberal bias to these shows. But taking a snapshot over a short period of time doesn’t really tell us much.
I checked the CMPA site to get the study breakdown but there wasn’t one. They also did a study back in August, finding that “Barack Obama still lags far behind Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the most joked-about presidential candidate in opening monologues by hosts on the late-night TV talk shows” but that “Obama attracted the most jokes on Comedy Central’s ‘fake news’ shows.” Interestingly — and belying my suspicion that this was some sort of hack organization — they published a study in July finding “Barack Obama is getting more negative coverage than John McCain on TV network evening news shows, reversing Obama’s lead in good press during the primaries.”
So, maybe, the comics just hit politicians when they’re providing good material for jokes?