Monday, March 03, 2008

It's Not TV, It's Nonsense

I will freely admit to not having seen 60 Minutes last night, just the moment in which Hillary Clinton was asked by Steve Kroft whether she thinks Barack Obama was a Muslim. When she said, basically, no, Kroft asked her again. This is a disgraceful attempt at journalism, by someone who, in a better world, would have been fired this morning, along with the producer who actually put that crap on the air. This isn’t just a stupid question, it’s a repeat of a rumor on the internet which has no credibility whatsoever. Yet Kroft, lacking in all journalistic integrity, decided to ask it, in an attempt to create news. Clinton, gave a reasonable answer, although could have been more definitive in her ultimate denial. Today, we can only assume Kroft and his CBS whore masters got their wish – free publicity, as news programs decided it was worth talking about. It seemed like a harmless enough moment to me, considering the basic inanity of the question, but MSNBC apparently made the decision that it was interesting. Chris Matthews showed the clip, then pretty much denied that there was any point in showing it. Clinton was asked about it on the campaign trail and got to go into her “Hillary as victim” routine, talking about all the “scurrilous rumors” which have dogged her through the years. Obama addressed it by talking about how much he loved Jesus, how he prays to Him nightly, when not too busy, and is absolutely not a Muslim.
Every American should be sickened by the whole episode. Sickened by a news media which is about its own promotion rather than illumination of ideas and facts. Sickened by the description of someone’s possible religion as a “scurrilous rumor.” Sickened by the need, in America, to pass some kind of religious test for office – not just saying you’re a Christian, but giving the details of your devotion, so people know you are really, really Christian, not some closet Muslim or, maybe worse, non-believer. Unfortunately, in Bush’s America, the religious fundamentalists must be placated, no matter how repulsed and frightened the founding fathers would have been by the complete denial of all they believed in.
Speaking of NBC, Hillary Clinton was on Saturday Night Live this weekend. For the second week in a row, the erratic comedy show decided to crap on Obama and genuflect before St. Hillary in their opening segment. Last week, in their return from the strike, they showed their version of CNN’s debate, where the anchors and questioners, led by Campbell Brown (played by Kristen Wiig), admitted their clear preference, even adoration, for Obama, and asked him nothing but fluff questions while basically ignoring Hillary. This is, of course, ironic, as in an earlier CNN debate, Brown ended the proceedings by asking Hillary the probative question “Diamonds or pearls?”
This time around, it was MSNBC’s turn, with Brian Williams and Tim Russert being lampooned, asking Hillary the tough questions and Obama the easy ones. That’s right, the same Tim Russert who asked the real Obama the fluff question about Louis Farrakhan and in the middle of Obama’s answer, added Obama’s pastor to the mix with statements he made about Obama and the Jewish vote following his trip to Libya with Farrakhan. So their take on him was pure slander, but they had established their pro-Clinton position the week before (a position bizarrely quoted by Hillary in a debate) and weren’t easing up. The week before, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler effectively endorsed Hillary on the show. This time around, the sketch was followed by Hillary herself, pointing out that they weren’t endorsing her formally, but that she liked what they were doing and then she had a lovely comedic moment with Poehler (as her) and altogether came across as charming and funny – something the Clintons are great at, by the way.
Now you may say, so what, it’s only SNL, no one cares what they say about politics. The problem is that’s not how they think. After the 2000 election, Tina Fey posited that their selection of the appealing Will Ferrell to play Bush and the unappealing Darrell Hammond to play Gore (in spite of their heights being reversed with the actual candidates) might have unintentionally cost Gore the election. If you remember, the SNL debate piece, mocking Gore’s Social Security lock box, was widely shown, with Gore even using it as a “what not to do” for future efforts. So here we have a pleasant, vivacious Hillary contrasted with a wooden, charmless, and dull Obama, played by the charmless Fred Armisen in blackface. You know, you can do anything you want in the name of satire and they have a right to pimp for Clinton all they want, but I think they really need to try and be a little fair to Obama, if for no other reason than much of their audience supports him. Of course, maybe there’s something else at work here involving Lorne Michaels. I thought the portrayal of Obama I saw was mighty close to racist. Having him played by a stiff and boring white guy was an intentional choice by Michaels. Maybe it’s time for Lorne to hang up his comedy holster and go back to hanging out with his rich friends.

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