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Samantha Bee — whose TBS program Full Frontal has in many ways taken up the mantle of political satire left by her old Daily Show boss Jon Stewart — delivered a stinging rebuke of NBC on her program Monday. The segment was a response to Jimmy Fallon’s friendly Tonight Show interview last Thursday with Donald Trump, which came as Trump refused to acknowledge his role in fanning the false birther conspiracy about President Barack Obama’s citizenship.
Bee has been a persistent critic of Trump, but it was somewhat surprising to see her call out NBC and a late-night peer. “It’s not really a Jimmy thing. For me, it was more of an NBC thing,” she explained, speaking to reporters during a conference call on Wednesday. “I’m just tired of having people on shows for great ratings just because you want and need great ratings. I’m tired of the whole process. I think it just needed to be called out. I just feel like they’ve allowed him to amplify his message in a way that feels so safe and comfortable, for so long.”
Fallon’s interview came less than two weeks after Matt Lauer’s widely criticized handling of a forum with the candidates that was supposed to focus on national security and the military. In separate interviews with Trump and Hillary Clinton, Lauer spent considerable time grilling Clinton about her use of a private email server and then seemed to ask Trump a series of open-ended questions while failing to bring up Trump’s past derogatory statements about John McCain’s service during Vietnam or the Gold Star family of a Muslim Army sergeant killed in Iraq.
Lauer also didn’t ask Trump about his own deferments from Vietnam while he allowed the candidate to repeat his debunked assertion that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. In a lacerating Full Frontal segment following the forum, Bee called the Today show anchor “human Splenda.”
“I think we were done,” noted Bee. “We were just done with these gossamer-like interviews of this person and the continued normalization of deplorable. We’d just had it.”
Fallon is, of course, known for a convivial approach that eschews any hint of controversy. And Bee noted that she is a “fan.” But, she said, such appearances in the case of Trump have enabled a “race-baiting demagogue,” as she has described him on her show.
“Even when The Apprentice was on, he was totally engaged with all of that birther nonsense, which to me was the most thinly veiled of thinly veiled racism,” said Bee. “And that was a really long time ago and it’s only grown and grown — until he finally put the issue to bed,” she said, referring to a bizarre media op during which Trump asserted that Hillary Clinton started the birther conspiracy and he “finished it.”
“He said Mexicans are rapists and then they had him on [Saturday Night Live],” continued Bee. “I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of the enabling a person to look like just this guy who likes to have fun.”
Bee’s Full Frontal will shift to Wednesday next week — the show regularly airs on Monday nights – so that she can address the first presidential debate, which is set to take place Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York. Lauer’s NBC News colleague Lester Holt is tasked with moderating.
“I feel oh so bad for Lester Holt,” said Bee. “But I’m sure he is handling it. I know Lester is doing his homework. And I think he will do a great job. Fingers crossed. We can do this. This is survivable.”
Bee’s audience is clearly left-of-center along the political spectrum. And she was name-checked in a New York Times editorial column by conservative writer Ross Douthat, who lamented that much of late-night comedy has been co-opted by the left.
Asked how she felt about the piece, Bee quipped: “It’s so good to know that we’re the problem and not racism. I’m so glad that someone finally figured it out. It was an interesting wake-up for me. It was a little bit akin to, ‘Stop pointing out that your uncle is molesting the children, you’re upsetting the family.’ I don’t know. I’ll probably have it framed.”
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