Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Get Off Jimmy Fallon's Back, People!

I think we can agree this was pretty damn bad journalism. But still...
I’m legitimately frustrated and appalled by the editorial dogpile on Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, following his softball interview with Donald Trump last week. From bastions of investigative long-form journalism, like The Atlantic and The New Yorker (or, more accurately, their websites) to spot outrage voiceboxes like Slate and HuffPo, and even fellow comic Samantha Bee, the mass pile-on has been pretty vociferous. It’s also been flat damn wrong.

Yes, I agree, Fallon missed a wonderful opportunity to hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire. His emphasis on personality qualities like The Donald’s ridiculous comb-over, which Fallon now-famously ruffled, showed a lack of ambition from an interviewer. Compared to NBC stablemate Seth Myers, who dedicated ten minutes to calling Trump a liar and telling him “Fuck you, exclamation point!”, Fallon looked like a cheerleader fumbling her homecoming date.

But we’re witnessing a bevy of legitimate journalists dogpiling a comedian for failing to do their job. For over a year now, we’ve seen journalists failing to take Donald Trump seriously. From lowballing his electoral chances in 2015, to belittling his voting base this spring, to playing he-said-she-said games all summer, journalists have overlooked numerous opportunities to puncture his pretensions. Now they’re angry a comedian isn’t doing their job.

The problem isn’t the vapid content. The problem is the expectations laid upon Fallon. Remember, his show airs at 11:35 Eastern, when healthy people have hit the hay. His audience consists heavily of unemployed people, college students, and white boys getting stoned and binging on Mrs. Fields—hardly a robust voting bloc. Though late-night hosts historically lean left, their audience overwhelmingly leans apathetic, and don’t want incisive issues.

American journalists have gone to remarkable lengths to accommodate Trump’s bizarre, content-free campaign style. They’ve broken to live coverage of frankly banal stump speeches which add nothing to the discussion. They’ve ignored his frequent disregard for basic political ethics, like using his “charitable” foundation to grease legal wheels while redirecting non-profit donations, um, somewhere. They’ve let him literally phone in Sunday morning political interviews from his living room.

Meanwhile, these same journalists have niggled Hillary Clinton’s fake scandals until, through sheer repetition, they appear legitimate. When Matt Lauer had Clinton’s ear for thirty minutes for an interview supposedly about national security, he dedicated over half his time to the e-mail quasi-scandal. This despite the fact that FBI director James Comey has admitted that, out of thirty thousand e-mails on Secretary Clinton’s server, the questionable content numbers fully two.

So yes, there’s a problem with how journalists handle Trump. Admittedly, it’s a difficult to address this imbalance directly. In the same interview, Lauer attempted to discuss substantive matter with Trump, who answered almost every question with the same stock banalities about “making America great again” and assertions of “believe me, believe me.” Asking Trump questions is somewhat like conversing with a kitten. Every query has the same high-pitched answer.

But that’s no damn excuse. If Lauer, and interviewers like him, have difficulty getting the Republican nominee to say anything, they need to pin him onto those banalities. They need to expose him for vacuous. In essence, Clinton is being pilloried because she actually speaks sentences with nouns, because her discourse has serious content. They’re conveying the message that they’ll give candidates free passes if they avoid saying anything.

I’m no Clinton partisan here, folks. I have serious problems with her, or more accurately, I have serious problems with her husband’s legacy. Can we seriously expect her to knee-jerk repeal policies her husband ratified, campaigned for, sometimes even campaigned on, like mandatory minimum sentences and submarining national poverty protections? But the media (which her husband deregulated in 1996) keeps avoiding these questions, like they avoid Trumps fake policies.

We’re witnessing a season where rabid voter bases have nominated a game-show host for the Republicans, and nearly nominated a Democratic candidate who literally joined the party the day before he sought to lead it. And journalists have avoided asking policy-based questions, cross-examining the candidates, or calling their bullshit. Basically they’ve wanted to ignore Trump while replaying the made-up Clinton controversies previously mercy-killed around 1996.

Faced with this basic failure of journalistic integrity, these same journalists wolfpack a comedian for failing to do their job. Please note, they’re still basically avoiding the candidate himself. Editorialists will criticize Matt Lauer or Jimmy Fallon for failing to ask good questions. But they still do everything possible to avoid reprimanding Trump for failing to provide good answers. And the band played on.

No comments:

Post a Comment