By Mark Archibald
According to Shakespeare’s King Lear “In jest, there is truth.” Mark Twain said “comedy, is tragedy, plus time.”
Both men seemed to foreshadow America’s recent political past. Following Watergate, our trust in politicians waned. More recently, the reliability of the media has also been scrutinized.
According to a May 2017, Harvard-Harris poll, a majority of Americans across the political spectrum don’t trust the “mainstream” media. The same poll shows, 84 percent of those surveyed said, “It’s hard to know which online news is real.”
William Randolph Hurst is known as much for being an entrepreneur as he was for “yellow journalism,” using outrageous headlines, pictures, and political cartoons to influence public opinion.
Hurst’s tactics aren’t that different from political campaigns. His aim, to sell papers. A political campaign’s objective is to shape public opinion and sell a candidate.
Politicians see talk and comedy shows as a way to reach uncommitted voters. By poking fun at themselves, office seekers look to connect with those who may have turned away from “hard news” entirely. Hosting or being a guest is a calculated risk many politicians are willing to take.
The grain of truth in satire is appreciated by a cynical public. Late night monologues and shows like Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show, Samantha Bee or Real Time with Bill Maher, have become the prism by which news is viewed by a growing number of Americans.
Political barbs doled out on these popular shows are part of the shared, and sometimes tortured union of politics and satire.
Hosts enjoy increased fame from their ascribed positions, but are often reluctant to assume the responsibilities that accompany their ascension.
Comedy show hosts often blur the lines between satire and public policy, but the political influence they wield is undeniable.
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel has recently used his platform to discuss healthcare drawing attention to the plight of millions who have preexisting conditions like his son.
SNL alumnus Tina Fey, transcended imitation with her portrayal of Sarah Palin. Fey’s work affected the perception of the former Republican Vice Presidential candidate, who never said that she could see Russia from her house. The phrase stuck to Palin, after Fey’s skit. The former Alaskan Governor was unable to recover.
In that moment the perception of Palin seeped into the consciousness of voters. Some blame Fey for her exaggeration, but Palin’s dismal performance during a prior interview with Katie Couric, shouldn’t be excused.
Johnny Carson was unbiased, an equal opportunity offender. Regularly zinging every foolish incident or corrupt official. His monologues were perhaps the first example of Must See Television. The ability to turn a phrase or offer a unique quip encapsulating the day’s political headlines is a gift.
Carson, Hope, Leno, Letterman, and Stewart had it, others do as well.
Satirists like news consumers should work to achieve the same fair standard. A balanced news diet includes Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, all in moderation.
Remember to leave room for comedy, it’s often the best part.
Mark Archibald is a social moderate fiscal conservative who born and raised in Western IL. who moved to Corsicana Texas in 2015.
He is a columnist for the Corsicana Daily Sun in Corsicana Texas.