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Few in the media would likely say that their job is the same today as it was even two years ago. The news cycle is in such a fixed pattern, orbiting around the orange star Donald Trump, that getting even a third of a way through a telecast without mentioning his name seems implausible.
“For people in our job, it can get really boring,” Daily Show writer Hallie Haglund told a crowd of reporters on Saturday morning at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. “During [the presidency of Barack] Obama, we’d have a week where we didn’t use a clip of the president. We’d be talking about what else was going on in the world. We recently had an act where we did not say Trump’s name once. I cannot remember the last time that happened. It’s as frustrating as it is boring.”
Haglund was joined by Comedy Central cousins from The President Show and The Jim Jefferies Show, as well as Full Frontal With Samantha Bee writer and correspondent Ashley Nicole Black. It isn’t often that writers from competing late-night talk shows publicly gather to talk shop, but the Trump White House has unified much of the late-night landscape — brothers and sisters in arms, whose biggest task now seems to be regurgitating the current administration’s daily news dump.
Frustrated or not, they don’t see any end in sight. When the panel was asked if they’ve been surprised to see everyone in late night (save a few exceptions, like NBC’s Jimmy Fallon) lean into Trump coverage the way that they have, the answer was a very clear “no.”
“If there was suddenly more cancer, there’d be a lot more cancer organizations fighting it,” said The President Show head writer Christine Nangle, whose series actually stars a comic posing as Trump. “We made him. We allowed this to happen.”
Framing their Trump coverage is something all four panelists seemed to agree on as well, noting that the often confounding developments to come out of the White House — volatile press conferences, news breaking on Twitter, etc. — are best addressed by just sharing the facts in lieu of openly criticizing the divisive commander-in-chief (especially when cable news networks opt to focus on the personal dramas playing out in politics).
“When [White House communications director Anthony] Scaramucci called that reporter, every cable network was on that while [senators] were voting on health care,” noted Haglund. “Yes, there are some easy jokes here, but someone has to show viewers what’s going on with health care.”
It was not lost on any of the four that their audiences skew liberal and likely have some overlap. Preaching to the choir is an obstacle facing most outlets and shows. So, on the off chance their telecasts do reach a Trump supporter, they try not to hit them over the head with their respective takes. “You don’t want to say to a Trump voter, ‘You’re so stupid, you got conned,'” added Nangle. “It’s about trying to present from a different angle. This is what’s happening. This is who this is. See for yourself.”
Black, who works on Bee’s weekly program, did not seem to think there was much of a chance that a Trump supporter would ever tune in to her show.
“I truly do not know if there’s a way for people to see the other side,” said Black. “People only watch certain outlets and watch certain commercials. We’re not going to advertise for Full Frontal on Fox News. The real problem with our country now is that our media diets are so bifurcated.”
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