No Laughing Matter

Last weekend two news clips caught my eye. One reported that former “SNL” comedy writer Al Franken (D) pulled ahead of Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in that state’s senatorial contest (40-34, according to one poll). The front page of The Washington Post advised, “Comedian Becomes Serious Contender.” Franken’s campaign has been stimulated by appearances by Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, and $6 million of ads paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In a second news item, CNN announced the premiere of a new comedy-news show, starring D.L. Hughley, a stand-up comic and former L.A. gang member. Hughley commented, “I’m, like, ‘Come on, man. I barely even know how to read. I’ve got a GED.’ ” CNN stated it was entering “into the well-established genre of news delivered with a satirical smile,” according to The New York Times, which highlighted the new program in its Arts section.

Bill Headline

Bill Headline could have endured a lot fewer jokes had he decided on a different career. But he chose television news at CBS and later CNN, and journalism was infinitely better for it. I'm sure he got tired of all the smirks, but he just ignored them (or at least pretended to) as he pursued excellence, going for the uncommon highest standards in a profession that sometimes reaches for the lowest.

Bill died suddenly over the weekend, in a freak accident. He leaves a legacy of class that will be hard to match. His move to CNN signaled the transition from Chicken Noodle News to the major leagues. With his quiet but firm guidance, the D.C. bureau went from ragtag to smooth. Yet he was always able to push people to be their best without demeaning them.

‘Colbert Report’: Unlikely Leader of the Weeknight

I never thought I would write this, but after three years on the air, “The Colbert Report” is consistently funnier than not only its Comedy Central predecessor, “The Daily Show,” but every nightly comedy program.

When “The Colbert Report” first aired, I wondered how the show would stay fresh, relying on what I thought was essentially a single joke. It seemed likely that “The Colbert Report” would have exactly the same problem “Saturday Night Live” has when it tries to stretch a five-minute sketch into a feature-length movie — it might work at the beginning, but eventually it’s going to seem stale and tired. The opposite has happened.

Gibson’s Responsibility

During the infamous O. J. Simpson double murder trial, The New York Times correspondent covering that cause celebre wrote that The National Enquirer had beaten the “legitimate,” high-class press to some important stories.

It did it again with the John Edwards scandal. During the Clinton impeachment era, Hustler editor Larry Flynt hired an investigative reporter to expose the sex scandals of certain national politicians who were haranguing Bill Clinton for his sexual adventures. Flynt said it was their hypocrisy, not their sexual habits, he intended to uncover. I recall these instances because they expose a sad state of post-Watergate investigative journalism by mainline media that has left questionable and sensationalistic media to unearth important controversial stories.

Fox News Attacks ‘Lesbian Air America Host’

Even by the low standards of the Republican News Network, this morning's attack on Rachel Maddow, on the Fox News network, as a "lesbian Air America host" was a despicable new low. Those words, an open appeal to bigotry and hate, said by an alleged media analyst named Tim Graham, were met with laughter and chortles by the Fox News team on air. This is sick and despicable stuff, even for Fox News.

Here is a message to Barack Obama: You need to spend more time fighting back against the lies and smears of a Swift Boat campaign more ugly than the campaign against John Kerry, and less time having sweet-talk meetings with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes followed by professorial discourse with Bill O'Reilly. This is war, Barack, and you had better fight back.

America’s Most Influential Journalist

No doubt about it: When Bob Novak hung up his gloves, America lost its hardest-hitting and most influential journalist.

Launched in May 1963, Novak’s column was the nation’s longest-running political column. It was also the most powerful. Columns by others may appear in more newspapers, but nobody has Novak’s clout.

Why? First, because he works so hard at it. He never stops. Until now, he never took a break. He had more sources, and better sources, than any other journalist.

His column was also so powerful because Bob Novak is much than just a political commentator. He’s an old-fashioned, deep-digging, relentless reporter. He never just gave his opinion. He reported news. And he often made news.

Tony, Tim and Tradition

It's not popular in Blogdom to say nice things about Washington insiders, even when they die. But at the risk of attracting venom from those who see debate only in the poisonous black and white of good and evil, I'm going to explain why the premature deaths of Tony Snow and Tim Russert just four weeks apart are such huge losses.

Both Tony and Tim represented the very best of politics' "Competition of Ideas." Both were champions of the honorable disagreement, where skeptical reporters and passionate advocates could hash out the best solutions to society's problems through intense debate.

The Bankruptcy of The Washington Post Editorial Page

To understand why Washington insiders are so often so wrong and why big-city newspaper circulation is down so far, read the editorial page of The Washington Post.

Not only was the editorial page dead wrong about the Iraq war when it mattered, becoming the house organ for neoconservatives. It was so intolerant of alternate opinion that the Post had to write a semi-apology editorial several years ago.

Even the long list of retired military personnel who publicly opposed the war, and active-duty military leaders whom everyone in Washington knew privately opposed the war, were not even mentioned or allowed op-eds in the Post for two solid years.

Speeches and Line-Dancing

Where do we draw the line? Where do I draw the line? And also, why do I suddenly care about drawing lines?

Because I get paid, sometimes, to make speeches. A lot of fortunate journalists and opinion-makers do. Others want to, but their employers either won't let them or impose severe limitations on these lucrative appearances.

The thinking is that if we take the big bucks from the very groups that can afford to pay, our objectivity might be compromised and we might slant our reporting to favor the wealthy special interests. At the very least, we might look like we are.

The Task of Following Russert

The date was Oct. 24, 1999, and at the campaign headquarters for Senate Republicans, we were just getting word that Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) had died.

Within an hour of the news being confirmed, reporters were calling me — as the spokesman for the campaign committee responsible for electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate — to get information on what his death meant with respect to a special election in Rhode Island or the possible appointment of Chafee’s son to the Senate. Then, on July 18, 2000, history repeated itself as Sen. Paul Coverdell (R–Ga.) — one of the hardest-working people in the Senate and well-liked in both parties — died. We were stunned by the news. And again the media calls poured in to me and we scrambled to find and explain what the special election or appointment procedures were in Georgia. It seemed so cruel, but the political machine churned. As time has gone on, I’ve found this it is not a sign of disrespect to the person but an acknowledgment of the business and passion they chose to pursue.