All of our favorite political navel-lint gazers have been in high dudgeon since last night, ruminating as to whether the GOP sweep means an end to gridlock in Washington — proving, contrary to reports, that the chin scratchers do have a sense of humor after all. Indeed, there were a few big winners (and losers) in the TV news coverage of the midterm elections — aka the dry run for the 2016 presidential election night – besides the Republicans and Democrats who enjoyed and suffered, respectively, the fruits of the traditional six-year-itch.
Comedy was a leitmotif of the coverage — not surprising in a saturated news marketplace where all the unhappy hawkers are competing for the next generation of 25-54 year olds, or — as, someone or other said last night, the next generation of voters once they too become really old. Comedy also is a useful tool for hanging on to viewers when a race is a blowout from the get-go — they teach that in Sportscasting 101.
Who wasn’t charmed when Fox News Channel talking-head-cum-mask-of-death Charles Krauthammer joked that if Republicans didn’t win back the Senate that night “they might consider looking for another line of work…they might do better in Somalia.”
Over at MSNBC, clinging-to-his-Puckish-ness anchor Chris Matthews giggled that “Fox News Network,” as he called it, “is an oxymoron – just kidding; it’s a great network.” MSNBC also seized the comedic moment when Tom Brokaw’s phone alarm went off during his expostulation on the great significance of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s win, posted online that “Tom Brokaw Receives A Breaking Grocery Alert” after Brokaw ad libbed that it was a reminder to pick up milk on the way home. Brokaw also was wearing clown glasses at the time, which ratcheted up the comedy quotient 10%:
ABC News already has stand-up talent at its disposal, having just taken over The View, though neither Whoopi Goldberg nor Rosie O’Donnell was in evidence last night. Still, Nicolle Wallace played a starring role vis-a-vis standard-bearer George Stephanopoulos, who went to the former Bush communications chief/key McCain-Palin advisor often during ABC’s Gimongous Roundtable segments that included David Muir, Jonathan Karl, Cokie Roberts and a phalanx of other regulars. Meanwhile, ABC News’ younger-skewing evening news anchor Muir had been assigned to Stat Watch (23% of midterm voters were aged 65 and older! Muir marveled, and only 13% in his target demo) and sat next to Stephanopoulos, who’s looking particularly jowly, in an anchor-appropriate way, these days.
ABC co-venture Fusion network, which aims to target millennials by promising to “fuse” pop culture, satire and news, did comedy particularly badly last night (Bob Schieffer gag? Really?):
About as shocking as the GOP sweep, Jon Stewart was the night’s big winner by a landslide. True, he got off to a terrible start, scowling his way through a CNN interview with Christiana Amanpour and saying he hadn’t bothered to vote. Note to Stewart: the optics are different when you scowl at eminently scowl-worthy Tucker Carlson in full Crossfire pig-in-mud mode on CNN in 2004, and when you scowl, a decade later, at respected international correspondent and unhappy-as-you-to-be-there Amanpour — even if she’d just asked you, school head-mistress-ly, if you’d voted, which, yes, was a stupid way to kick off the interview.
But Stewart came back strong with his own live election night coverage on Comedy Central’s Daily Show, in which he had the savvy to kick things off with an apology for his CNN gaffe, explaining it was all a joke and that of course he’d voted. Stewart nailed what was maybe the best “get” of the night, when he asked RNC chairman Reince Priebus what, exactly, it was that Republicans had run on, “other than ‘Obama is Stalin’ and ‘Ebola is going to kill your grandparents’.” (Priebus said Obama wasn’t leading abroad and wasn’t engaging domestically.) Stewart wondered, as did we, if Priebus was surprised by the Dems’ midterm strategy of “curling up in a ball and hoping you didn’t kick them in the face too hard” and whether, after six years “in an oppositional position, trying to stop anything,” Republicans would have difficulty remembering how to “do things?” Priebus noted happily that the GOP now had Obama “boxed in.” That put the lie to Rand Paul’s insistence before every network mic available that night, that the outlook was nothing less than rosy because Republicans are so eager to work with their colleagues across the aisle the President would soon have “bill after bill” to sign. So, he too aspires to comedy.
Also making headlines last night was Stewart’s soon-to-be ex-colleague Stephen Colbert, with his take-down of cable newsers’ Brain Rooms, Bill Boards, and Magic Walls. Wrapping up his broadcast, Colbert noted the night marked the end of his eight years of live election coverage on Comedy Central. “You know what I’ll always remember? The hardworking men and women of broadcast news who told us who won…men and women like Stephen Colbert. Tonight marks a sort of farewell to me but, who knows, maybe one day you’ll see me on TV again,” giving viewers a glimmer of hope that CBS, where Colbert is headed, might brave the attacks of America’s Greatest Living Gasbag Rush Limbaugh and wrangle Colbert into its election coverage going forward, in some capacity.
Stewart’s great night is, in turn, a credit to NBC News chief Deborah Turness, who recently made a bid to bring him to her news operation, though in the ill-fitting gig as host of its Sunday Beltway show Meet The Press. Small comfort for Turness, who was left last night with the comedy of Brokaw, guffawing at his own description of McConnell as a guy who “still gets up in the morning and forgets to take his charisma pills.”
“There’s no question about that,” Brokaw added, stepping on his own gag.