When a technical glitch forced Jon Stewart to retape the beginning of his first "Daily Show" here, he told the audience that Washington types were steeped enough in political play-acting to know what to do.
"You'll laugh as if this is the first time you've heard it," the comedian ordered.
While much of the country will be watching Dan, Tom and Peter sort through the election returns tomorrow night, those who don't take the campaign all that seriously may flip to Stewart's live coverage on Comedy Central.
"We're going to start drinking around 5 and then just see what happens," Stewart says.
How interested is his audience in, say, House races? "They're excited for the first 300, 350. After that it becomes tedious."
But the irreverent "Daily Show" is no joke for politicians trying to connect with a younger crowd that doesn't watch the Sunday morning gabfests. That's why North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a likely presidential candidate, did the show during its stint in Washington last week, joining such previous guests as John McCain (who recently hosted "Saturday Night Live"), Joe Lieberman, Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, Bob Dole, Bob Kerrey and Mary Bono.
"Clearly, it's an audience of bright young people who watch that show and an opportunity to let them get acquainted with him," says Edwards spokesman Mike Briggs, adding that the senator's 20-year-old daughter is a huge fan.
And what does the visiting New Yorker make of the capital? "The culture of Washington is beautifully analogous to the culture of L.A. -- self-important and out of touch," Stewart says.
What makes the program bitingly funny is the deadpan way it mocks the conventions of television news. Stewart tells viewers the election will include correspondent reports and "hopefully a great deal of irresponsible speculation." He tosses to one reporter, Stephen Colbert, at the Capitol -- actually standing in front of a screen a few feet away on which the gleaming dome has been projected.
He quizzes "senior political analyst" Rachael Harris from "beautiful Anytown, USA" on what folks are saying about the election, which turns out to be: "That sniper thing was so scary. What was up with that sniper?"
By hitting the well-worn cliches, the anchor-speak and the neatly packaged reports, "The Daily Show" exposes TV inanity through cheap imitation. As Colbert intoned in front of a giant screen that read "TRUST": "It all comes down to who's going to win the voters' trust. That's who's going to win the whole enchilada."
That was a parody, right?
Chicago Sees Red
It's an old-fashioned Windy City slugfest: No sooner did the Chicago Tribune trot out a breezy tabloid called RedEye last week than the rival Chicago Sun-Times rushed out its own version, dubbed Red Streak.
John Cruickshank, co-editor of Red Streak, which he describes as "just another edition" of the Sun-Times, sees the Tribune's move as desperate: "The mega-corporation next door has realized that nobody under 35 reads their newspaper, but they all read our tabloid." As for the difference between the Sun-Times and its Red Streak incarnation, "it's more playful, much more experimental," he says.
At the Trib, which conducted lots of focus groups, RedEye General Manager John O'Loughlin says the coveted 18-to-34 group does read the broadsheet, just not often enough. RedEye is written "in a voice that this particular demographic might relate to, something more reflective of a time-pressed lifestyle." Translation: Lots of really short stories that don't jump to another page.
"Duplication is the greatest form of flattery," O'Loughlin says of the competition.
"We do colorful Chicago coverage," counters Cruickshank. "We do not produce award-winning takeouts from the Congo."
Why RedEye? The paper says the name evokes images of "catching a flight in the wee hours . . . dropping a shot of espresso in your coffee, feeling the morning-after effects of staying out too late."
The 25-cent tabs may have different personalities, but they're heavy on celebrity culture and sports (or what the grown-ups think the latte crowd would be interested in). In the debut issue Wednesday, RedEye's front page offered straphangers the top 10 reasons to read it ("Advice on sex, the weather, whatever turns you on -- all for a quarter") and blurbs on Oprah and "The Bachelor," plus a gossip back page called Red Hot.
The Sun-Times version had five front-page stories, including Starbucks entering the breakfast market and huge inflatable pumpkins. There were also headlines such as "Sarah Jessica Parker Has Her Baby" and pictures of Christina Aguilera and accused shoplifter Winona Ryder, and a gossip back page called Scurrilous.
"Neither paper can be construed as hip," Chicago magazine's Steve Rhodes writes online. Slate's Jack Shafer says the papers are "slicing the news so thin the servings wouldn't even make a meal for an anorexic."
Nutritious or not, this is serious business: RedEye has already charged that Red Streakers are stuffing their paper in Trib boxes. The Tribune is launching with a 100,000 circulation, but Cruickshank vows: "We'll print as many as they do and then one."
No Translation Needed
The FBI made a last-minute attempt to derail a "60 Minutes" interview with a whistle-blower who worked for the bureau.
On Friday afternoon, Oct. 25, attorneys for Sibel Edmonds received a fax from FBI public affairs chief Michael Kortan, saying Edmonds was required to get prior approval before talking to CBS correspondent Ed Bradley.
Edmonds, who had already taped the interview, ignored the letter. The former wiretap translator told Bradley, as she had told The Washington Post in June, that many documents in terrorism investigations aren't translated because of incompetence and corruption. Edmonds is suing the FBI over her subsequent firing.
"They wanted the '60 Minutes' show not to air," Stephen Kohn, Edmonds's lawyer, says of FBI officials. "They didn't want to be criticized. They called it a 'setup.' . . . On the eve of when the show was to air, they come in screaming national security. It was pure public relations. What it accomplished was scaring my client and making her extremely nervous and very upset."
In the FBI fax, Kortan warned that Edmonds signed an agreement as an employee that "expressly prohibits disclosure (without prior approval from the Director of the FBI or his delegate) of information acquired as part of the performance of her contract."
Kortan says in an interview there was no attempt to kill the story. "She was just reminded of her obligations that were part of her contract with the FBI," he says. While Kohn says the non-disclosure agreement is generally invoked only for books and articles on national security, Kortan says its use is "not uncommon" for television interviews.
The bureau also waited weeks -- until that Saturday -- to give "60 Minutes" a brief comment about FBI officials taking the whistle-blower charges seriously, which Bradley added to the end of his piece.
When CNBC's Maria Bartiromo was about to interview Citigroup Chairman Sanford Weill last week, company spokesmen told her she could not ask about allegations that Weill may have pushed former star analyst Jack Grubman to tout AT&T stock -- or the session would be canceled. Bartiromo complied, but she and CNBC's interim news chief, David Friend, later decided they were being manipulated and spiked the interview.
Says Citigroup spokeswoman Leah Johnson: "We were very up front with all reporters that we wouldn't be able to talk about issues under investigation."