Republicans Are Funny

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to host David Letterman (R) during an appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman" in New York October 16, 2008.

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to host David Letterman (R) during an appearance on

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?

Reuters Photo

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Entertainment, Media, Popular Culture, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    So, maybe, the comics just hit politicians when they’re providing good material for jokes?

    Indeed. I suspect the paucity of Biden jokes is due to the lack of material to work with. Hardly anyone is covering him or his speeches. This morning I heard no mention of him on the radio. OB, yes. JM, yes. SP, yes.

  2. Wayne says:

    There is an obvious bias. Event the jokes are not done in the same manner. Republicans are usually portrayed as idiots because of some gaffs. Obama and Biden have plenty of gaffs and yet are not portrayed as idiots. How many times have Obama been nailed for his 57 states comments? Just like last night on the Tonight Show and no I don’t have a link to it, they portrayed Obama as smug but never went that personal with him. Palin and Bush characters portrayed them as ignorant and idiots and got nasty about them. They took very personable shots at them and even went after Palin’s family. Obama, his family and friends are off limits.

  3. Eric says:

    There is an obvious bias… .

    Yeah, always a conspiracy with you guys. Always looking for a zebra when you should be looking for a horse. Say, why don’t you just grab your woobie and bottle and go sit in your crib if it makes you feel so bad? Boo-hoo.

    In any event, you rightwing nutties have your “Obama is a monkey,” and “Obama is a terrorist,” and “Obama is a sex perv” stories that you like to laugh at so much. So consider it even, OK?

  4. sam says:

    I can guarantee that if Obama wins the election, the main focus of comedic endeavor will be the Democrats, at least for the next four years. I recall that during the golden age of SNL (when Belushi, Ackroyd, and Co. were about), Jimmy Carter was pulverized on the show by Dan Ackroyd. So, buck up Republicans, if you lose in November, there’s a silver lining for you.

  5. DC Loser says:

    I didn’t hear any complaints during the Clinton years when conservatives basically cornered talk radio. Rush Limbaugh was in his golden years ridiculing Bill, Hillary, the Dems in Congress (pre-94), the homeless, etc….I’m sure Rush is secretly wishing for an Obama victory so he’ll get to repeat that again.

  6. Bystander says:

    “… why don’t you just grab your woobie and bottle and go sit in your crib if it makes you feel so bad?”

    Wow Eric … you’re never going to come across to me as an intelligent participant in these conversations again.

  7. Some politicians are easier to make fun of than others. Bill Clinton, for example, was a bonanza for the late night comics–even 8 years later I still hear Letterman make Clinton jokes.

    I have been a pretty steady, although hardly daily, viewer of Letterman for a rather long time now (let’s just say it still sometimes seems like his CBS is his “new” show). He will make fun of anybody (and has).

    He really was pretty mild on McCain until the “suspend the campaign” stuff and I think that much of Letterman’s reaction was as much personal as it was political. He has actually been pretty deferential to McCain (I did not see last night) and even on the night he ranted about McCain’s absence, he talked about what a war hero he was and such.

  8. MNotaro says:

    Our media today is so liberal–and so are all the celebrities on tv and movies brainwashing the public. Everywhere you look on tv, you are bombarded with these illuminati thoughts, view points, and opinions!

  9. Barry says:

    James: “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.”

    Well, unless there’s some government influence warping the comedy shows, I’d say that this is the Invisible Hand of the Market.

  10. tom p says:

    you are bombarded with these illuminati thoughts, view points, and opinions

    Oh no!!! The dreaded illuminati!! They are out to take over our minds! Save me Rush! Save me Bill-O!

  11. Eric says:

    Wow Eric … you’re never going to come across to me as an intelligent participant in these conversations again.

    Aw, c’mon, man, cut me some slack. Even intelligent people get sick of hearing the conspiratorial view of politics cited as an excuse for failure every time. For once I’d like those rightwing dead-enders to justify something without resorting to conspiracies, Communism, or fear.

    By the way, let me clarify for the record that by “rightwing nutties” or “dead-enders,” I mean the real, bona-fide rightwing nuthouse right: the Birchers, the Limbaughs and Hannities, the Bitheads and Zelsdorfs. I never mean the James Joyners or other rational and moderate conservatives who can at least argue intelligently and see facts as they are and not as they want them to be even if I disagree with their interpretations.

    ‘Nuff said.

  12. just me says:

    They don’t cover Biden because nobody cares about him, but he probably provides the most material. They woudln’t even have to write something.

    I saw a video the other day where he said the main problem was a three letter word JOBS-then he proceeded to spell it.

    I do think in general there is probably a bias towards the GOP, but I also think first and foremost the late night shows are comedy, and they aren’t going to ignore covering something funny when it lands in their laps. Biden drops a lot of stuff but they don’t even appear to care about Biden-he is just Obama’s window dressing because somebody had to be picked for running mate.

  13. Nicky says:

    Actually, it’s a well known fact that Jay Leno is extremely conservative and is a Republican. I don’t know about the other talk show hosts. I do think that some Republicans can come off as stiff and holier-than-thou and others try to convey intellectual superiority through snide remarks and sarcasm that cuts-off meaningful dialogue (e.g. coining terms such as p.c., bleeding heart, knee jerk, etc.) Makes them an easy target because they’re always in a glass house throwing stones…am I generalizing? 🙂

  14. Wayne says:

    “it’s a well known fact that Jay Leno is extremely conservative”

    He is conservative by Hollywood’s standards but certainly not extremely conservative. Any idea what philosophy his writers and producers are?

    I think two big reason besides Obama being a Democrat that many comedians don’t use mean spirited jokes about Obama are one they are afraid of being called racist and two many are smitten with him.

  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    By the way, let me clarify for the record that by “rightwing nutties” or “dead-enders,” I mean the real, bona-fide rightwing nuthouse right: the Birchers, the Limbaughs and Hannities, the Bitheads and Zelsdorfs. I never mean the James Joyners or other rational and moderate conservatives who can at least argue intelligently and see facts as they are and not as they want them to be even if I disagree with their interpretations.

    lol, Dude why?

    if you gonna smoke the Donkeypole blunt please don’t hurt yourself puffing on your own.

  16. Eric says:

    if you gonna smoke the Donkeypole blunt please don’t hurt yourself puffing on your own.

    Oh, shoot, G.A., did I forget to include you on the dead-enders list and now you’re mad at me? Sorry ’bout that.

  17. sam says:

    Actually, it’s a well known fact that Jay Leno is extremely conservative and is a Republican.

    Well, I dunno:

    Jay Leno: I am a Liberal, Really

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    Oh, shoot, G.A., did I forget to include you on the dead-enders list and now you’re mad at me? Sorry ’bout that.

    yup, and apology accepted.

  19. G.A.Phillips says:

    I didn’t hear any complaints during the Clinton years when conservatives basically cornered talk radio. Rush Limbaugh was in his golden years ridiculing Bill, Hillary, the Dems in Congress (pre-94), the homeless, etc….I’m sure Rush is secretly wishing for an Obama victory so he’ll get to repeat that again.

    lol, Rush is still in his golden years and if the communist millionaire Slickwilly Jr gets elected he’s going platinum or planet size Ruby or something.

  20. johs says:

    The lame excuse that Obama doesn’t supply any material is completely negated by the truly funny routine that McCain did on Obama at the White tie dinner. Bias is bias, celebrities have always been quite vocal of their bias.