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by Steve Young

Steve Young columns

For the last few weeks before the election, Bill O'Reilly showed up on nearly every TV show that had that a signal to pitch his newest book. Obviously, three hours, five days a week, of hawking it on his own shows weren't enough. I'm surprised he didn't book himself on South Park, though I wouldn't be surprised if Parker and Stone are looping that episode right now.

Two shows that made a strong impression on Bill were "The View" and "The Late Show;" in particular, Rosie O'Donnell and David Letterman. Bill then employed both of them as America's prime Secular Progressive targets, seemingly shipping George Soros and Michael Moore off to SP target Over-The-Hill Land. Rosie and David were what was wrong with America.

At first I thought Bill was just putting on his lioness suit, selecting the gazelles weak enough to attack, but really of no consequence. But after trying to understand what landed America back in the blue corner, I began to appreciate that Bill might actually know what he was doing. And it wasn't about having killer book sales. It was about trying to kill the messengers. Messengers that were getting through to the voter.

For the past couple years I scoffed at studies that showed Americans, 'specially those of the youth ilk, get their news from comedians. In 2000 I interviewed the head writers of Leno, Dennis Miller (the funny HBO one), Bill Maher, as well as Lewis Black (who coincidentally the head writer for Lewis Black) for an article ("If It's On Leno, It's Got To Be True") in the Writers Guild "Written By" magazine. None of the writers truly felt that people get their news from their shows. They may have been right, but one thing I believe now, and I think Bill does too, is that while a lot of people didn't get their news from comedians, they might be getting their point of view from them. Something was very wrong and if we don't do something to change it, the joke will be on the voter...again.

Today, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rule the spoof news roosts. It's very difficult, with the big ole target George Bush and his compatriots have made themselves, to get through Leno or Letterman, Conan or Kimmel, without a good percentage of the jokes exposing the king's lack of clothes. Different from Parr's or Carson's Eisenhower golf jokes or Clinton's sexcapades, this time the gags are about major blood and guts screw-ups that might gag the viewer. And in that gagging, something hits home: These guys are bungling away lives, and most troubling, they don't get it.

The politicos didn't miss the message. Everyone on the Hill allowed themselves to sit, most of them uncomfortably, in the Daily Show's "Hot Seat." Colbert was more of a risk, though many of those skewed candidates eventually won. Okay, a lot of them didn't get the jokes, but it didn't matter. Their willingness to be the butt of them connected. And they knew it. Or at least some young person on their staff knew it.

Even "The Simpsons" decided to air their knock of the Bush-Iraqi wrong-headedness in their Sunday before the mid-terms, "Tree House of Horrors."

And it's not only television. Jones Radio's Stephanie Miller (and voicemate extraordinaire Jim Ward), far from the subtlety of a Harry Shearer or Mort Sahl, has used a deft combination of clever political satire and fart jokes to make her points. The Democratic leadership began to notice her blossoming reach and ability to connect with the voter. Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Murtha, Russ Feingold ignored the Stephanie's allusions to her "lovely lady lumps" (sorry, you'll have to listen) and pitched their Democratic message. Miller's 99.9 percent liberal (the other .1 percent is progressive) three hours a day, ever-growing audience and advertising base proves that liberal talk radio works. If only those who hold the purse strings would get together with thick-headed programmers to take a look at Stephanie's formula to understand that Liberal Talk was never supposed to be Right Wing talk with different targets.

This year Letterman and Stephanie Miller got it right. Brit Hume and Karl Rove got it wrong. Fox's "The Simpsons" knew what they were talking about. Fox News didn't.

Sure, most of the "talk" comics lean liberal and Dennis Miller has yet to figure out that his best (dare I say, "sophisticated") brand of humor doesn't work when he waters it down for the Right. The Right wants Hannity, Limbaugh and O'Reilly. The Left is going with Stewart, Colbert and Stephie.

While Billy O may despise Rosie and David for their foreign policy ineptitude and dismiss Stewart and Colbert's influence in the cable news wars, he understands that they and their comic brethren are both valuable opponents. Valuable as both targets and sales tools. And no one, even those who abhor the nospinster, would ever deny his marketing prowess.

And this year, Democrats finally figured it out too.

Steve Young is an award-winning television writer, author, and failed talk-show host:

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Albion Monitor   November 8, 2006   (

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