Just how did Carlson go “off script”? On Tuesday, she reflected on the policy options facing the country following the Orlando massacre: “Do we need AR-15s to hunt and kill deer? Do we need them to protect our families? Yes, I’m in favor of people being able to carry. I think some of these mass shootings would have been less deadly if that were the case. But I’m also with the majority today taking a stand. Can’t we hold true the sanctity of the Second Amendment while still having common sense?”
It was a strong bit of news anchoring, in part because the compatibility of the Second Amendment with common sense is an important element of the debate over gun restrictions. Quite commonly partisans and news analysts couch gun-control proposals as Second Amendment encroachments per se. Yet the Supreme Court has said otherwise; in the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller case, Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, in part, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited” — and that curbs may apply to “dangerous and unusual weapons.” In a Post op-ed, former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens wrote that Congress’s inaction on background checks “cannot be justified by reference to the Second Amendment or to anything that the Supreme Court has said about that amendment.”
The premise underlying Wilmore’s bit was that Carlson was committing an egregious act of Fox News unorthodoxy. “By the way, Fox News employees, swing by Buffalo Wild Wings tonight for Gretchen Carlson’s farewell party,” he joked. “I’m telling you, there’s no way Fox is keeping her after that, man. Good for you, Gretchen, good for you. To help Gretchen land a new job, we got her the MSNBC starter pack…. It’s all here: The short, androgynous black wig, black glasses and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book.” Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show,” even featured a graphic of Carlson looking a bit like MSNBC star Rachel Maddow.
A giggly moment, though a bit weak. Indeed there are many voices on Fox News that preach resistance to gun restrictions. Differing opinions are allowed, however. None other than the King of Cable News Bill O’Reilly this week declared that “high-powered” weapons were too easy to acquire, though his pronouncements over the years on this topic could use some clarification. And anchor Shepard Smith has expressed incredulity that Congress couldn’t enact some gun restrictions following the Newtown massacre.
So even though Wilmore’s “MSNBC starter kit” is a cute gag, it’s not particularly true. For a guy who likes to bash stereotypes, it’s full of them: Fox News is a monolithic conservative outlet, and MSNBC a monolithic liberal outlet.
It’s a joke that also appears to come from the heads of people who don’t obsessively watch Fox News, chronicle its every contradiction and depravity, and file it for eventual parody. That, essentially, is what Comedy Central used to do under host Jon Stewart, who departed nearly a year ago, and to a lesser extent under host Stephen Colbert, who departed in December 2014. “There is no question that Mr. Stewart is going to hell,” said O’Reilly on one of his programs. To which Stewart replied, “Your hell doesn’t scare me. I make my living watching Fox News eight hours a day. I’m already in hell.” Here’s a mashup of Stewart’s Fox News highlights.
The critique, mind you, didn’t apply just to Fox News. CNN was a frequent and much-bloodied target as well, slammed for its crazed approach to breaking news, its high-tech news-presentation baubles, and just general babble.
And now? Wilmore and Trevor Noah, who replaced Stewart at the helm of the “Daily Show,” occasionally skewer cable news, with considerably less insight and impact than their predecessors. Even before he took over for Stewart, Noah acknowledged the change of emphasis. “That’s going to be an exciting journey for me — is building a relationship, my relationship, with cable news networks and with other new networks that are out there,” said Noah in an interview last fall with CNN’s Brian Stelter, who proceeded to ask whether he had any targets. “I don’t have targets, why would I have targets? I’ve never had a job where my purpose is to skewer the media in that way.” The Noah track record on Fox News includes scorching Megyn Kelly for her soft-focus interview with Donald Trump in May and ripping those who diminished President Obama’s tears over murdered schoolchildren. On the CNN satire front, he has smacked down a paid Trump supporter for framing an absurd defense of his candidate, among other quips.
What’s missing from the presentation is utter mastery of the cable-news archive, and the resulting ability to point out every damning twist and turn in a network’s reporting. The old Comedy Central found stuff on cable news that everyone else had missed — even people who were paid to watch it.
In search of input on this matter, the Erik Wemple Blog put out a one-question push-poll on Twitter:
An excellent response came from @CynthiaDelmar:
You mean criticism of cable-news outlets isn’t American’s No. 1 societal imperative?
@CynthiaDelmar is right. If someone doesn’t hop on this vacuum quickly, perhaps the “Amazing News Network” will.