Dean Obeidallah says we can't expect late-night hosts to grill guests like reporters do
He says Jimmy Fallon could've made people laugh and inform them of Trump's history of hate
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Samantha Bee really went after Jimmy Fallon this week for his Donald Trump interview. In truth, he treated the GOP presidential nominee like a Kardashian. It was jokes and cuteness to the max, with Fallon even begging for permission to mess up Trump’s orangish hair. (After some manufactured coyness, Trump agreed.)
In general, late-night comedy hosts shouldn’t be held responsible for vetting our presidential candidates. Just because a candidate appears on “The Tonight Show,” it doesn’t somehow morph the program into “Meet the Press.” And if Fallon, whom I worked with for seven seasons at “Saturday Night Live” and is one of the nicest and most talented people you will ever meet, had been interviewing say a Mitt Romney or a John McCain, he could have given them a foot massage and most people wouldn’t have cared.
But Trump is different. And that is the very point Bee and others have raised. Trump, who literally kicked off his campaign spewing hate, has demonized Latino immigrants, demeaned an American-born federal judge for his Hispanic heritage, stoked hate against Muslims, despicably mocked a disabled reporter, made sexist remarks, led the racist birther campaign and even defended a black protester being beaten up by his white supporters.
And it’s no coincidence that Trump is proudly and publicly supported by a frightening number of white supremacists and anti-Semites such as David Duke. And while Trump will tell us he doesn’t want their support, just a few weeks ago leading white supremacist leaders held a press conference to “discuss their affection for Donald Trump and their hopes for a white homeland,” which they demand must be free from Jews. (Trump has no problem calling people he doesn’t like such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren a “fraud” and a “racist” but has yet to use such blunt and impassioned language to denounce his white supremacist fans.)
If Fallon were a person of color, a woman, a Muslim, disabled or a member of any group that Trump has demonized, you wonder if he would’ve given the candidate a free pass.
Anyone who opposes racism, bigotry and sexism has an obligation to challenge Trump. And that was Bee’s point on her show “Full Frontal” on TBS (like CNN, owned by Time Warner) as she called out both Fallon and NBC for giving Trump a platform without remarking on his past disturbing comments: “I guess because ratings matter more than brown people.” She added, “Sure, he’s making life palpably dangerous for Muslims and immigrants, but, hey, he’s good entertainment!”
As Bee quipped about Trump’s interview, “Network execs and a lot of their audience can ignore how very dangerous Trump is, because, to them, he isn’t.”
She is 100% correct. For many communities, such as Latinos and Muslims in America, Trump’s words are not just political, they are personal.
Trump has caused a palpable fear in the Latino community with his baseless claims about Mexico sending “rapists” to America and vows of mass deportations of even children. As CNN contributor Maria Cardona explained on my SiriusXM radio show last week, even her own daughter has asked, “If Trump wins, will he deport you Mommy?”
And for Muslims, Trump’s horribly irresponsible attacks on our community are the reason – at least in our view – for an alarming spike in hate crimes versus Muslims. In the past few weeks, two self-professed Trump supporters reportedly were charged with hate crimes in attacks upon the Muslim community.
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Now no one is saying Fallon had to do a fact check of every Trump statement. (That’s the job of news reporters, but some are failing horribly and need to be called out more.) But Fallon, only seven weeks from Election Day, let Trump turn his appearance into an infomercial.
“The Tonight Show” host could have easily and even comically pressed Trump more. For example, he asked Trump why he wanted to be president, to which Trump responded, “Because I want to help people.” Fallon could have joked exactly how does he define “people” given all the groups he has demonized, causing Trump to address the issue.
In response to the criticism from Bee and others, Fallon remarked, “I’m never too hard on anyone.” That’s true and Fallon’s show is one the most entertaining late-night programs on TV.
But sometimes you can combine entertainment with some education. And I bet given Fallon’s amazing level of talent, he could have easily done both, making his audience laugh while also informing them about Trump’s despicable history of hate.