On Tuesday, CBS This Morning pounced on a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) showing that President Obama is now the butt of more jokes on late night TV than any other politician.
"Since his re-election, late-night comedians have aimed 300 jokes at the President," CBS's Jeff Pegues announced. "That's only 100 fewer than all of those directed at Republican politicians combined."
But the real news is how, in two presidential campaigns and in his first term as President, Obama has largely evaded the harsh barbs of TV's comics. In setting up today's piece, co-host Charlie Rose did point out that in 2012 "television hosts told twice as many jokes about [Republican candidate Mitt] Romney as they did about President Obama."
In a video clip, study author Robert Lichter assessed: "Obama got kind of a pass last year because Romney was a new figure. He was a fresh face to make fun of. Now, we're back to the President being the number one politician, and the number one politician is the number one joke-getter."
But CMPA's own archive (going back to the 1980s) shows that the late night comics always direct more of their fire to Republican candidates in presidential election years. When Obama himself was a "fresh face" in 2008, CMPA counted 243 Obama jokes during the general election, vs. 658 for Republican John McCain.
In 2004, when John Kerry played the role of challenger to incumbent George W. Bush (a mirror-image of the 2012 race), it was Bush who drew more fire: 261 jokes, vs. 135 for Kerry. In 2000, the same joke-counters found 254 Bush jokes, vs. 165 for Democrat Al Gore.
And in 1992 and 1996, not even Bill Clinton's sensational personal life could make him the top joke target. As a challenger in 1992, CMPA found Clinton trailed a distant third in the late night comedy count, with 66 jokes vs. 161 for incumbent George H. W. Bush and 154 for independent candidate Ross Perot. In 1996, CMPA tallied 838 jokes about Bob Dole, vs. 655 for Clinton.
A Nexis search shows that none of those reports from CMPA were ever acknowledged on CBS, although CBS's The Early Show ran a soundbite from CMPA's Lichter during the waning days of the 2000 talking generically about the role of comedy shows in politics: "These shows have become more than a supplement to the news. They have really merged into part of the cultural stew that people rely on to find out about politics these days."
If CBS thinks it's news that President Obama is now the favorite target of TV's jokesters, where were they during the years in which Republican politicians were the comedians' punching bag?
See relevant transcript below.
CBS This Morning
August 6, 2013
8:06 a.m. Eastern
CHARLIE ROSE: In 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had trouble with voters and the late-night comics. Television hosts told twice as many jokes about Romney as they did about President Obama. But as Jeff Pegues reports last year's election winner is this year's punch line.
JIMMY FALLON: President Obama he celebrated his 52nd birthday yesterday. You can tell he's getting older because he no longer supports President Obama. It’s very interesting.
JEFF PEGUES: On the late night comedy circuit, a faltering presidential approval rating can be TV ratings gold.
JAY LENO: I will tell you how bad it's looking for President Obama, people in Kenya are now saying he's 100% American. That's how bad it is.
PEGUES: A new study has found that since his re-election, late-night comedians have aimed 300 jokes at the president. That's only 100 fewer than all of those directed at Republican politicians combined. It's not unusual for the Commander in Chief to become comic fodder, but Robert Lichter who helped run the study explains the number of jokes is a big change for this president.
ROBERT LICHTER: Obama got kind of a pass last year because Romney was a new figure. He was a fresh face to make fun of. Now, we're back to the president being the number one politician. And the number one politician is the number one joke-getter.
PEGUES: But the president isn't alone in feeling the heat. This year his Democratic counterparts were roasted nearly double the amount of their opponents across the aisle.
CONAN O’BRIEN: Some Republicans are saying that due to his current scandals President Obama should be impeached. That's what they're saying, yeah. In response, Obama laughed and said two words, fellas, President Biden.
PEGUES: Still, the late night circuit can be as valuable as it is eviscerated. As a candidate, Bill Clinton blew some voters away on the Arsenio Hall Show in the early 90s. The appearance made taking a seat on a late night sofa an integral part of the campaign trail.
LICHTER: The idea of going into the lion's den, showing people that you don't mind, you enjoy being laughed at, that's good. It makes you seem like a regular guy.
PEGUES: On Tuesday, the president will return to the late-night circuit for the first time since a slew of scandals hit his administration.
BARACK OBAMA: Frankly, I don't buy it.
PEGUES: And instead of being in on the joke, he'll likely have to endure them.
O’BRIEN: For his birthday, Michelle Obama jumped out of a cake and told him he's not allows to have any.
PEGUES: The president will now get to prove whether he can not only make a joke but take one as well. For "CBS This Morning" Jeff Pegues, Washington.
ROSE: I suspect the president already knows that.
NORAH ODONNELL: Yes that he's often the subject of jokes.
ROSE: And he's been through two national campaigns.
ODONNELL: That’s part of the job indeed.