The day after a “Saturday Night Live” sketch depicted what life might be like had Donald Trump never been elected, the president criticized what he called the show’s “one sided coverage” and suggested without any basis that it was defamation.
“A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live,” Trump wrote Sunday on Twitter. “It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?”
Many responded to Trump’s tweet by citing the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and expression. Trump has frequently called the media “the enemy of the people” and has said it would be a good idea to “loosen up” libel laws.
The president did not directly mention what coverage prompted his ire. On Saturday, Alec Baldwin reprised his role as Trump in a skit called ‘It’s a Wonderful Trump,' a parody of the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Baldwin as Trump reflects on recent difficulties and wonders what life would be like if he weren’t president.
A guardian angel, played by Keenan Thompson, then guides Baldwin through an alternative reality — a world in which Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election instead of him.
Virtually everyone in Trump’s inner circle — addressing him now as “Mr. Trump,” rather than “President Trump” — is depicted as having a better life without him in the White House. This includes Kellyanne Conway, Michael Cohen, Melania Trump and Eric Trump.
At the end of the skit, Baldwin repeats “I want to be president again” until a bell rings and he’s brought back to reality. Thompson laments that Baldwin has learned nothing from the experience.
Trump’s relationship with SNL has been rocky from the days of his presidential campaign.
He lashed out in 2016 after a skit mocked his performance during a town hall debate. Trump accused SNL of being part of a larger media conspiracy that wanted to prevent him from becoming president. He also directly called out Baldwin.
“Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show,” Trump wrote. “Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”
The president called out Baldwin again this year, writing that his portrayal of Trump was “agony for those who were forced to watch” and a “terrible impersonation.”
The Washington Post’s Steve Hendrix notes that SNL’s spoofing of presidents dates to Gerald Ford. Privately, Ford bemoaned his portrayal on the show by actor Chevy Chase, Hendrix notes. In public, however, Ford laughed along.
The president invited the entertainer who skewered him to the White House. When Chase was the featured comedian at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 1976, Ford embraced the shtick, scattering papers and silverware across the dais, mostly on Chase’s lap.
It was a strategy that most media-age image consultants would hail as a no-brainer: Hide your pique, show you can take a joke, don’t let your bruised feelings become the next story. It was more or less the way every subsequent president has handled his NBC doppelganger. Until now. President Trump doesn’t laugh.
In response to Trump’s tweet on Sunday, many highlighted his apparent implication that SNL’s portrayal of him “can’t be legal” and should be tested in courts.
The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, which includes satire and parody.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.