COMEDY AS NEWS: “I’m much more worried about people getting their entertainment from news than getting their news from entertainment,” said The Onion’s head writer, Todd Hanson, during a panel on political humor at The New Yorker Festival Saturday, adding that the Tina Fey send-up of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin may have “saved the election.” Amidst the wisecracks on the panel, which included an executive producer of “The Colbert Report,” Andy Borowitz, and Jim Downey of “Saturday Night Live,” were notes of genuine earnestness, reflecting a general sentiment that there was a lot at stake this time around.
This story first appeared in the October 7, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But Samantha Bee of “The Daily Show” said she didn’t believe her show’s viewers used it as their sole news source. “They’d have to be getting their news from somewhere in order to find the humor in our show,” she said.
There was some incredulity that Bee is still able to get man-on-the-street interviews featuring inane comments, since the show is so well known. Said Hanson: “We don’t make people look dumb — they are dumb.”
To which The New Yorker’s Susan Morrison replied: “Of course, we don’t have any dumb people here.”
“No,” said Borowitz, “They’re at the New York Post festival.”
Later that day, Stephen Colbert spoke to Ariel Levy, saying he preferred to be viewed as a comedian, not a crusader. “I don’t want to wear a badge and shoot up the bad guys on my show. It’s not helpful for me to think about what I do as crusading. It’s most important that it’s a joke. It’s not important that it change the world,” he said. He also believes his show doesn’t speak truth to power. “It’s saying, ‘F–k you,’ to power.” But the real Colbert, separate from the character, is conflicted about his impact on guests. ”I don’t care what they think of me, but I am worried about their feelings. They’re nice [people] — except for Bill Kristol.”
And, though humor programs consistently have produced the most trenchant critiques this political season, don’t count out the so-called mainstream media as utterly cowed. Asked about how he responds to the McCain campaign’s attempts to discredit New York Times reporting, executive editor Bill Keller replied: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page, just to show them that they can’t get away with it.”
On the same panel, The Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said one reason Palin had confounded the public was because she was young and looked so different from other women in Washington, whom she described as being “like little refrigerators, being wheeled through the halls of Congress. They’re blunt, boxlike things.” And, while she was unwilling to submit to a questioner’s premise that the coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton was sexist, she did concede that Clinton lost an hour every morning to hair, makeup and wardrobe, putting her at a disadvantage to Barack Obama. But don’t get Noonan wrong: “I don’t want to see [female politicians] without makeup, either.” — Irin Carmon and Stephanie D. Smith
NOT OUT OF THE GAME: Though recent reports have said that OK is no longer in the market to buy celebrity photos, the magazine is, in fact, shelling out six figures for pictures of Jamie Lynn Spears and her baby daddy, Casey Aldridge. The teenage parents sat for an exclusive interview with the magazine to speak about marriage, parenthood and Aldridge’s supposed infidelities. OK has featured Spears and her sister, Britney, and their offspring in the magazine regularly (Jamie Lynn has appeared on five covers in 12 months, with and without her newborn).
While the parents certainly didn’t fetch Brangelina-like fees for the images, the magazine paid upward of $100,000 for the photos. As for who will be named the magazine’s next editor in chief to replace Sarah Ivens, OK’s new U.S. boss Kent Brownridge said an announcement could come in the next week or three. — S.D.S.
RETHINKING THE ATLANTIC: Paraphrasing Paul Tsongas, who once said the last cell of his body that hadn’t fallen prey to cancer would be the one that wanted to run for president, Atlantic owner David Bradley said the last cell of his body to survive would be the one that bought the Atlantic and sought to “revivify it.” The 10 years of his ownership, Bradley told those assembled at Le Cirque for the presentation of the Atlantic’s redesign, might be characterized by “timidity,” but he added that the Atlantic now sits in a new city (Washington, after 148 years in Boston), has a newish editor (James Bennet, formerly of The New York Times, as of 2006) and, as of this week, has a new logo and tag line (“Think. Again.”), and a new look, crafted by Michael Bierut at Pentagram. The Web site, amassing what’s been called the Yankees of blogging, has been redesigned by Bond Art + Science, and a branding campaign featuring provocative, if by turns vague, questions from the magazine has been dreamed up by EuroRSCG.
Bennet noted that the premiere issue appeared during the financial panic of 1857, “which began in banking.” Aptly, the new look was unveiled in a room that included several marketing hands from financial services companies, who might have gamely viewed the proceedings, but who plainly didn’t know if they’d have a job for the next planning cycle.
One person with a new, extra job is national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, who joined from The New Yorker just over a year ago, and who will now write a regular advice column, “What’s Your Problem?” Michael Hirschorn, king of the high-low hopscotch, will have a media column, and Virginia Postrel will write on business.
In a live enactment of “Thinking. Again.,” Goldberg interviewed New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks, who offered two telling anecdotes about Sen. Barack Obama. In his dealings with Brooks, Obama proved capable of both a 30-minute discourse on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as well as a certain social intuition. When Brooks wrote a column criticizing Congress — “it was the Republicans, but I threw in the Democrats to make myself feel better” — he said Obama e-mailed him to say it was fine if Brooks wanted to criticize the Senate, but “you just threw in the Democrats to make yourself feel better.” — I.C.