A very weird thing happened on Saturday Night Live this weekend. The opening sketch — you may want to sit down — but the opening sketch poked mild fun at President Barack Obama’s executive overreach.
So I guess they’re back on drugs at SNL because I can think of no other reason why they would change course from their steadfast, nearly decade-long avoidance of poking fun at the most powerful man in the world.
The sketch is a riff on the “I’m Just A Bill On Capitol Hill” thing from Schoolhouse Rock. It’s fairly tempered as far as critiques of unilateral executive action against the will of the people in a constitutional republic go:
Some of us faithful SNL watchers had grown weary of the supposedly top comedy show in the country failing to find hardly any humor in a gaffe-prone, failure-ridden presidency. Check out #3 in my “The 3 Worst Things About Saturday Night Live’s Season Opener” for much more on the BS reasons the writers have given for not poking fun at Obama.
The rest of the show was hit or miss, of course, but this was a big breakthrough for SNL. Maybe the first time in years we’d seen this level of criticism. So you’ll never guess what happened next. Actually, you could guess it quite easily.
The Washington Post‘s Zachary Goldfarb ran a “fact check” of the comedy show to defend President Obama:
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 23, 2014
I don’t want to wander into the type of territory President Obama did when he made a joke disparaging the skills of people with special needs (huge media kerfuffle … not), but it’s long been noted that the media treat President Obama as if he’s a child with special needs. Every little thing done well is praised while problems are explained away and in general expectations are modified. It’s … weird. Various folks made fun of the Washington Post for feeling the need to fact check an SNL skit:
Others noted what was left out of the fact check — some of the items funny, others mind-boggling:
Shhhhhhhh. We might upset Obama, and we don’t want to do that.
The last time you might remember SNL making fun of President Obama was all the way back in 2009 when Fred Armisen played the president and claimed he’d done nothing in almost a full year in office. Closed Guantanamo on his first day in office? Heck no. Gotten out of Iraq? Nope. Made improvements in Afghanistan? “It may be worse,” Armisen’s Obama said.
And while I’m not sure if the Washington Post rushed to mend his hurt feelings, Wolf Blitzer and the crew at CNN did a lengthy segment with what they billed as the “non-partisan” Politifact (now that’s funny) explaining that SNL was wrong and had “missed the mark” on its satire.
Yes, Politifact did defend President Obama against the mean old SNL writers in a piece “Hey SNL! We’ve rated Obama’s promises!” And it’s just as ridiculous and non-fact based as most things you’ll read from Politifact. A sample:
• “Close Guantanamo Bay – Not Done.” We’ve rated Obama’s promise No. 177 Close the Guantanamo Detention Center as Stalled. Congress has been reluctant to fund the closure and press reports have indicated progress is not proceeding as the White House had hoped. Still, Obama gave himself a year to get this done, and that’s not until January 2010.
• “Out of Iraq – Not Done.” Actually, Obama did not promise to have troops out during his first year; he promised to remove them in approximately 16 months. We rated Obama’s promise No. 125, Direct military leaders to end the war in Iraq , as Promise Kept and his promise No. 126, Begin removing combat troops from Iraq , as In the Works.
• “Improve Afghanistan – Worse.” The promise we’ve rated on Afghanistan is No. 134, Send two additional brigades to Afghanistan . We’ve rated this Promise Kept.
PolitiFact and CNN said that it wasn’t that President Obama broke his promise to close Guantanamo on his first day in office so much as that he’s “fallen short.” At this point that’s like 2100+ days short, but come on. Don’t call it a broken promise.
Then CNN quotes the PolitiFact dude talking about how important SNL is in terms of where people get their information, so this was a very serious thing. The CNN reporter then mentions Sarah Palin’s image being hurt by SNL without noting that their impressions weren’t factual. Then back to PolitiFact dude saying, “This was not a fair portrayal of how Obama’s done.” It’s really amazing and if you want to watch it, you can check it out here.
But come on. This is ridiculous. Earlier this year, Lorne Michaels claimed that Republicans are much better at taking jokes than Democrats and that Democrats take it personally. That’s undoubtedly true in that Republicans, conservatives, and anyone who doesn’t share the politics of most media elites, comes in for skewering from multiple outlets multiple times a week. But who knew that it was the water-carrying journalists who struggle the most when President Obama comes in for mild poking?
We might note that the Washington Post only “fact-checked” (if a slide in a silly blog post counts) the SNL claim about Sarah Palin and Russia in, oh dear, August 2012. For those counting at home, that’s four years after it ran.
And what of the SNL era when Tina Fey was playing Palin? Where to begin with the Washington Post alone? On the Monday after the initial show ran, much of the dialogue from the cold open was just reprinted with the additional journalistic analysis: “In the parlance of the show (and comedians generally), they ‘killed.'”
And how about this “anything but the actual facts check” a month later when Palin appeared on the show? “(Fey’s “I can see Russia from my house” gag skewered what critics say is the candidate’s lack of foreign policy knowledge, while her flute-playing “talent portion” of the vice presidential debate has become an unshakable image of John McCain’s running mate.)” Another chunk was spent “fact-checking” Palin’s pronunciation of Lorne (no, I’m not joking).
That year for Halloween, the Post suggested that people build Halloween costumes around Palin’s “I can see Russia” line.
A year later Howard Kurtz wrote, “Sarah Palin is fair game for most kinds of mockery, from Tina Fey’s ‘I can see Russia from my house’ to harsher fare.”
When her first book came out, the Washington Post lets Sarah Palin explain that a fact check may have been in order:
In the book, Palin expresses a sense of self-deprecating humor about Fey’s comedy and the appearance of herself and the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), on the NBC show. But she complains about how Fey’s Palinisms became confused with her own words. “The classic example was Tina dressed up as me, saying, ‘I can see Russia from my house.’ Which of course I’ve never said,” she writes. In fact, what she said, during the interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson, was “You can actually see Russia from land, here in Alaska.”
The Post’s Lisa de Moraes says Palin sounds like “some doll in a Damon Runyan story” during an interview with Barbara Walters where, once again, it was left to Palin to explain that she hadn’t said what SNL had claimed she’d said.
And all this is to give just one example of the media’s lack of consistency and standards when it comes to either elevating comedic mockery or protecting their precious candidates and beloved political figures. I could be wrong but I don’t recall any fact checks of Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush or really any president prior to this.
This pattern of running fact checks the two times the writers at SNL got the stones to make fun of Obama is embarrassing.