SIMON: In our celebrity-driven culture, don’t count out Roy Moore
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
I couldn’t find anything to watch on TV Monday night, so I ended up viewing one of the weirdest shows in the history of PBS.
It was the “Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.” Shows like this are usually agonizingly unwatchable, but this one had potential.
This is not a great time to be honoring humorists in America. The first problem is finding one who has not committed sexual assault.
This year’s Mark Twain prize was given to David Letterman, which is pretty funny in itself, since Letterman was forced to announce on air in 2009 that he had had sex with several female employees, which was news to his wife.
So how do you deflect attention away from that? Hey, how about booking Al Franken for the show? Which PBS did.
The show was taped in October, before Franken’s unwanted groping and kissing became news. As soon as it did, Franken was edited out of the show that was broadcast on Monday. Only at the very end did sharp-eyed viewers see Franken mingling on stage with the other performers.
I think what Franken did was stupid and terrible, but nobody has quite figured out what the punishment should be. (There could be a Hallmark card that says: “I thought you were my friend until you turned out to be a monster!”)
We’ve got quite a range of miscreants to choose among, from Louis C.K. to Charlie Rose to Glenn Thrush to Jeffrey Tambor to Kevin Spacey, to Michael Oreskes to Mark Halperin, to Leon Wieseltier to Harvey Weinstein.
Take Letterman himself. As the longest serving late night host in history, he became an industry giant. He is the winner of oodles of Emmys, a Peabody Award, a sponsor of the $21 million David Letterman Communication and Media Building at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and — oh, yeah — the lover of several young women on his show. He apologized to his wife and his staff in October 2009 and said: “I do terrible things” and called what he did “creepy.”
Letterman did not get fired. And, in fact, he was the object of much sympathy, especially since one of his affairs became the subject of a failed blackmail attempt, in which the blackmailer went to prison after Letterman testified before a grand jury.
Years later, Letterman retired with dignity, got the coveted Mark Twain Award, and did not raise a fuss when Al Franken got cut from the show.
In September, before allegations of sexual misconduct became public, Franken sat down with John Harwood of CNBC. Franken was in the midst of a national book tour and was beginning the long run-up to a possible presidential candidacy in 2020.
Harwood: “Let me ask you about Trump in particular. You allude in the book a couple of times to the idea that there may be something wrong with him.”
Franken: “I’m not a psychiatrist, but I do think that his actions have been well outside the norm for a president and, in many ways, for a human being.”
Harwood: “We’ve got a celebrity-driven culture. And people are very used to back-and-forth between politicians. And I wonder if you think that humor provides a different dimension to that that would be valuable either for you or for somebody else running for president?”
Franken: “Yeah. I think a sense of humor is great in life. I think that and I’ll tell you, you know, I’m funny. And I’ve bonded with, especially, all my colleagues.”
Harwood: “So, it’s valuable.”
Franken: “Yeah, it’s valuable. Your life would be better if you got a sense of humor, John.”
Harwood: “I’m working on it.”
We are, indeed, a celebrity-driven culture, which is why, before his first election as governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, can be accused in grisly detail of assaulting 15 women and still win the race.
And why Donald Trump, a professional performer, can admit on tape to physically forcing himself on women and still win the presidency.
And why nobody should underestimate the chances of Roy Moore to win the Senate seat in Alabama as he performs on the stage of public opinion there.
And keep in mind that everything in America can be made into a joke.
Nobody had done more devastating comedy on Moore than Stephen Colbert. But sometimes you have to wonder if it is hurting Moore or helping him.
Colbert quoted Moore recently as saying: “I don’t go on dates with anyone without the permission of her mother.”
“Wait a minute,” said Colbert. “She’s a 14-year-old girl, not a field trip!”
Funny stuff? Or a sad commentary on American politics?
Then there is this quotation by Mark Twain that was cited by Letterman on Monday at the end of his tribute: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
Is anybody laughing?
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org.