Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Letterman

Bill O’Reilly Versus Stephen Colbert

Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly is often the target of Stephen Colbert’s humor–and lately, Colbert’s jabs have begun to sting.

Mr. O’Reilly, clearly angry at Colbert, seems to have become somewhat consumed by him as well. For example, on a recent program O’Reilly referred to Colbert as a “deceiver,” an “ideological fanatic” who is “misguided in the extreme” and “clueless” but “the guy does damage.” He “gives cover to powerful people who are selling Americans a big lie.”

Subtle.

But it didn’t stop there. When it was announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman next year, O’Reilly weighed in against his nemesis again, saying, “Colbert has built an entire career on pleasing the left.” O’Reilly said Colbert will have difficulty going up against “high energy guys who want to have a good time on their shows” (NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel).

“It’d be hard to imagine that 40 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservative will watch Colbert and that’s a lot of folks to lose from the jump,” O’Reilly said. “But Colbert will have good writers and surely he knows his challenge. Place your bets now.”

Appearing on ABC’s The View, O’Reilly said Colbert is a “mouthpiece for the far left,” a person who “snipes” and makes “these little snarky remarks.”

A few thoughts on all this, the first of which is that I’m not sure Mr. O’Reilly does himself any favors in going after Colbert. Virtually every time he does, Colbert takes O’Reilly’s attacks and milks them for all they’re worth. He is playing right into the trap set for him by Colbert.

Read More

Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly is often the target of Stephen Colbert’s humor–and lately, Colbert’s jabs have begun to sting.

Mr. O’Reilly, clearly angry at Colbert, seems to have become somewhat consumed by him as well. For example, on a recent program O’Reilly referred to Colbert as a “deceiver,” an “ideological fanatic” who is “misguided in the extreme” and “clueless” but “the guy does damage.” He “gives cover to powerful people who are selling Americans a big lie.”

Subtle.

But it didn’t stop there. When it was announced that Colbert will replace David Letterman next year, O’Reilly weighed in against his nemesis again, saying, “Colbert has built an entire career on pleasing the left.” O’Reilly said Colbert will have difficulty going up against “high energy guys who want to have a good time on their shows” (NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel).

“It’d be hard to imagine that 40 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservative will watch Colbert and that’s a lot of folks to lose from the jump,” O’Reilly said. “But Colbert will have good writers and surely he knows his challenge. Place your bets now.”

Appearing on ABC’s The View, O’Reilly said Colbert is a “mouthpiece for the far left,” a person who “snipes” and makes “these little snarky remarks.”

A few thoughts on all this, the first of which is that I’m not sure Mr. O’Reilly does himself any favors in going after Colbert. Virtually every time he does, Colbert takes O’Reilly’s attacks and milks them for all they’re worth. He is playing right into the trap set for him by Colbert.

Second, this fairly good-natured 2007 interview between Colbert and O’Reilly is useful to this extent: Colbert isn’t any more or less of an “ideological fanatic,” “deceiver” or “mouthpiece for the left” now than he was then. Colbert’s shtick hasn’t changed, but O’Reilly’s irritation with Colbert clearly has. One can’t help but think what’s driving this now is more personal rather than philosophical.

Third, Colbert is a comedian–one with a liberal slant for sure, but still a comedian. And so for O’Reilly to treat Colbert as if his comedy is secondary to his ideological agenda is, I think, a mistake. Remember, Colbert’s character is a satire of O’Reilly. The character was created in order to get laughs, which it does.

Which brings me to my fourth point. I’m more conservative than Mr. O’Reilly, but I’m also a fan of both Colbert and Jon Stewart. Not because I agree with their politics. Not because I think their caricature of conservatives is fair. (You’d never know from them that Fox News features far and away the best news show on the air in the form of Special Report w/Bret Baier.) And not because I don’t think from time to time they might act in ways that are bothersome and reveal their core (liberal) convictions.

No, I’m a fan because Stewart and Colbert are masters at comedy, with Stewart, I think, the best there is. (Stewart is also an excellent interviewer.) So they’re liberal comedians for sure–but the fact that they’re liberal doesn’t mean they aren’t funny or clever. Or that they don’t at times expose conservative weaknesses or hypocrisies. I tend toward the view that even conservatives should be able to appreciate their professional excellence.

One final point: When Colbert takes over for Letterman, he’s going to set aside his ultra-conservative Colbert Report character. I therefore doubt Colbert will be seen as all that politically partisan in his future role. We’ll see.

Bill O’Reilly is a talented person; there’s no way he could have dominated cable television for so many years unless he was. He can show an admirable independence and he’s often well informed. But he strikes me as a person with a tremendous ego, even by the standards of television personalities, and quite sensitive to criticism. The latter shows up now and again, but never more so than in his recent battles with Stephen Colbert. And in these battles–with O’Reilly attempting to bludgeon Colbert as if he were a combination of Paul Krugman and Howard Dean while Colbert responds with humor and mockery–Colbert almost always comes out on top.

Papa Bear needs to relax a bit.  

Read Less

Senator Dirksen, Call Your Office

Everett Dirksen, the late Republican senator from Illinois, is famous for saying (on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” of all places) about government spending, “a billion here, a billion there and the first thing you know, you’re talking about real money.”

The senator died in 1969, when the national debt stood at $352.7 billion ($2.214 trillion in 2012 dollars, as measured by the CPI), and equal to 39 percent of 1969 GDP. Today, 43 mostly prosperous years later (many of them exceedingly so), the national debt is over $16 trillion–eight times as great in constant dollars–and two and half times as great in terms of GDP.

Read More

Everett Dirksen, the late Republican senator from Illinois, is famous for saying (on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” of all places) about government spending, “a billion here, a billion there and the first thing you know, you’re talking about real money.”

The senator died in 1969, when the national debt stood at $352.7 billion ($2.214 trillion in 2012 dollars, as measured by the CPI), and equal to 39 percent of 1969 GDP. Today, 43 mostly prosperous years later (many of them exceedingly so), the national debt is over $16 trillion–eight times as great in constant dollars–and two and half times as great in terms of GDP.

You’d think it might be an issue in the present campaign. But President Obama is not concerned. Indeed, he is so unconcerned that he can’t even remember what the size of the debt is these days. On “The Late Show with David Letterman” (these late-night talk shows, it seems, have become the agora of modern American politics), Letterman asked if it was now about $10 trillion. That, in fact, was the figure when Obama became president. Today, three and a half years later, it has grown by 60 percent, but Obama can’t remember exactly what it is. My friends at Power Line have the tape.

If Obama is re-elected he will have to be concerned at some point, such as when, to paraphrase Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, the government holds a bond auction and nobody shows up.

Read Less

Letterman is No Carson

During his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, David Letterman went off on a passionate defense of President Obama. Letterman concluded by saying, “What more do we want this man to do for us, honest to God?”

For starters, something better than the weakest economic recovery in the modern era, the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era, the highest sustained unemployment rate since the Great Depression, a housing crisis worse than the Great Depression, unprecedented deficits and debt, a standard of living that’s fallen longer and more steeply during the past three years than at any time since the government began recording it five decades ago, a downgrade in the United States’ credit rating for the first time in history, and a record number of people in poverty.

Read More

During his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, David Letterman went off on a passionate defense of President Obama. Letterman concluded by saying, “What more do we want this man to do for us, honest to God?”

For starters, something better than the weakest economic recovery in the modern era, the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era, the highest sustained unemployment rate since the Great Depression, a housing crisis worse than the Great Depression, unprecedented deficits and debt, a standard of living that’s fallen longer and more steeply during the past three years than at any time since the government began recording it five decades ago, a downgrade in the United States’ credit rating for the first time in history, and a record number of people in poverty.

Beyond that, though, it’s worth pointing out that earlier this week PBS’s American Masters series broadcast an excellent two-hour documentary titled, “Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.” Among those paying tribute to Carson was Letterman, who clearly revered Carson. In the course of the program, some of those on “The Tonight Show” staff pointed out with pride that no one ever really knew Carson’s politics – that he was never tendentious and his humor and targets were bi-partisan. It helped explain his appeal during the course of 30 remarkable years.

Carson knew he was a comedian, not a political commentator – and he was able to set his political opinions aside before stepping through the “Tonight Show” curtains.

One is reminded that in this area, as in so many other areas, David Letterman – aging, increasingly brittle, and not terribly funny — is no Johnny Carson.

Read Less

Gibbs: The Perfect Obami Mouthpiece

Chris Stirewalt writes:

When will President Obama give up on the Robert Gibbs experiment? Immediately after Obama made a surprise appearance in a snow-emptied press briefing room to emphasize that he was sincere about his new call for bipartisanship, Gibb took the podium for a bit of prop comedy at the expense of the GOP. In taking follow-up questions from reporters, Gibbs went into a rehearsed, tedious bit Sarah Palin writing talking points on her hand. He wrote his grocery list and “ hope and change” on his own hand. That he lacked the good sense to keep his palm on the podium after Obama’s remarks should be enough to get him sacked.

On one level, this is true — Gibbs’ snide demeanor and sneering attitude toward both the news corps and critics don’t aid the president. But again, let’s be clear: Obama hired Gibbs, likes Gibbs, and keeps Gibbs there. According to TV news reports this morning, the president did not rebuke Gibbs after the anti-Palin stunt. Of course he didn’t. The experiment here is not Gibbs but the phony, insincere bipartisanship.

Even mainstream news outlets are on to the hollowness of the new Obama bipartisan gambit. CBS reports:

Mr. Obama said he “won’t hesitate to embrace a good idea from my friends in the minority party.” But he wants his way. He wants his energy policy enacted along with his jobs bill, his financial regulatory reform and his health care plan.And if the opposition continues to block his objectives, he said he “won’t hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that’s rooted not in substantive disagreement but in political expedience.”

When a sitting president calls for bipartisanship by the opposition – he really means surrender. And if they block his proposals, its “obstinacy” and not political views they hold as strongly as he holds his.

So it is not Gibbs who is in danger of losing his job. He gives voice to the inner sneer of the Obama White House, the low regard in which it holds all opponents. Only David Letterman could better embody the prevailing attitude: “Aren’t we cool, and aren’t they all dopes out there?” Yes, Gibbs does give away the game from time to time, but the Obami can’t restrain themselves. They have their perfect spokesman. He’s not going anywhere, unless he gets a promotion as a reward for his year of showing us precisely what the Obami think of themselves and the rest of us.

Chris Stirewalt writes:

When will President Obama give up on the Robert Gibbs experiment? Immediately after Obama made a surprise appearance in a snow-emptied press briefing room to emphasize that he was sincere about his new call for bipartisanship, Gibb took the podium for a bit of prop comedy at the expense of the GOP. In taking follow-up questions from reporters, Gibbs went into a rehearsed, tedious bit Sarah Palin writing talking points on her hand. He wrote his grocery list and “ hope and change” on his own hand. That he lacked the good sense to keep his palm on the podium after Obama’s remarks should be enough to get him sacked.

On one level, this is true — Gibbs’ snide demeanor and sneering attitude toward both the news corps and critics don’t aid the president. But again, let’s be clear: Obama hired Gibbs, likes Gibbs, and keeps Gibbs there. According to TV news reports this morning, the president did not rebuke Gibbs after the anti-Palin stunt. Of course he didn’t. The experiment here is not Gibbs but the phony, insincere bipartisanship.

Even mainstream news outlets are on to the hollowness of the new Obama bipartisan gambit. CBS reports:

Mr. Obama said he “won’t hesitate to embrace a good idea from my friends in the minority party.” But he wants his way. He wants his energy policy enacted along with his jobs bill, his financial regulatory reform and his health care plan.And if the opposition continues to block his objectives, he said he “won’t hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that’s rooted not in substantive disagreement but in political expedience.”

When a sitting president calls for bipartisanship by the opposition – he really means surrender. And if they block his proposals, its “obstinacy” and not political views they hold as strongly as he holds his.

So it is not Gibbs who is in danger of losing his job. He gives voice to the inner sneer of the Obama White House, the low regard in which it holds all opponents. Only David Letterman could better embody the prevailing attitude: “Aren’t we cool, and aren’t they all dopes out there?” Yes, Gibbs does give away the game from time to time, but the Obami can’t restrain themselves. They have their perfect spokesman. He’s not going anywhere, unless he gets a promotion as a reward for his year of showing us precisely what the Obami think of themselves and the rest of us.

Read Less