When Late-Night TV Is the News

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Photo: CBS

It is beyond old hat to say that the world feels fake right now. I’ve personally moved beyond the computer-simulation theory to being 99 percent sure we’re in the Seltzer-Freiberg parody movie of the real world. To wit, Trump’s IRS nominee was Girls Gone Wild auteur Joe Francis’s lawyer during his tax-evasion moment, and one of the strongest links in our diplomatic chain is Dennis Rodman — and that’s only because a Canadian hipster magazine bluffed its way into becoming a global news organization. But one of the more galling plot lines in this obviously fake world is the way our president makes his war on the media into news, which the media then has to comment on.

Trump, incensed by Jimmy Fallon’s interview with The Hollywood Reporter, went on one of his trademark Twitter rants and critiqued Fallon for not being enough of a man, among other things. Trump then went on to slam Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and “that guy on CBS” at a rally. Upon hearing the news, Stephen Colbert said “Hey, Mr. President! I will not stand here and let you talk that way about James Corden. He’s very talented! He sings, he dances. Have you seen his Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney?”

Colbert and Fallon were joined by Conan O’Brien in a shared cold open between their two shows. (Conan is off this week.) The president attacked late night as an institution, so the networks came together as a show of solidarity. What a dumb thing to happen to have to spend time on when Justice Kennedy is retiring. The Republican National Committee has released a campaign ad going after Johnny Depp, Samantha Bee, and Kathy Griffin. I can’t wait for their shared YouTube clapback, if only because you know Griffin will point out that Depp is being fed his lines via earpiece.

This is not the first time a television show has felt the need to defend itself against the White House. The Bushes infamously came for The Simpsons on multiple occasions. In 1990, Barbara Bush said in an interview that the show was the dumbest thing she’d ever seen. Marge Simpson wrote an open letter to the then–First Lady. “I try to teach my children Bart, Lisa, and even little Maggie, always to give somebody the benefit of the doubt and not talk badly about them, even if they’re rich. It’s hard to get them to understand this advice when the very First Lady in the country calls us not only dumb, but ‘the dumbest thing’ she ever saw,” wrote the fictional character Marjorie Bouvier Simpson. Mrs. Bush responded with an incredibly catty letter of her own, writing, “I’m glad you spoke your mind; I foolishly didn’t know you had one.”

Clinton and Obama were too busy being the darlings of the shiny floor circuit to hurl insults. Clinton appearing on Arsenio Hall was such a formative image for the candidate, it made its way into the Animaniacs theme song. This week, Clinton appeared on The Daily Show and was given a third chance to control the narrative about his take on #MeToo.

But Trump’s relationship with the media is, obviously, quite different. Marco Rubio claimed that it’s the media’s fault other Republicans won’t stand up to him. “Many Republicans won’t criticize Trump even when they don’t agree with him,” he tweeted, “b/c it means siding with a media that nevers cuts him a break, turns even little things he does into an act of evil, are also unfair to them & in the end will still attack you anyway.” Lines have been drawn. And though the details surrounding the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette are still emerging, it’s hard not to feel like the media is quite literally under attack.

Last night was the last episode of The Opposition With Jordan Klepper. And Klepper wanted to keep ahead of the “fake news” that his show was canceled. Like many conservative-media figureheads, Klepper positioned himself as not even part of the media. He was a pirate TV signal that Viacom weirdly happened to control. As his show crumbled around him, Klepper refused to give in to reality. Frankly, that seems more fun than trying to make sense of the world we have now.

When Late-Night TV Is the News