Pop Culture with Paul Farhi: Correspondents dinner, Lady Gaga, Bill Moyers, Lynn Redgrave, more

May 04, 2010

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi will be online Tuesday, May 4, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: The president cracks wise --about just about everything--at the White House Correspondents' dinner. We like a good joke as much as the next guy (and there were some winners in Obama's routine), but wasn't the Don Rickles bit a little beneath him? Plus: Lady Gaga goes to Afghanistan, Bill Moyers leaves PBS, and Lynn Redgrave takes her final bow.

Thanks for stopping by...Well, I took a little bit of heat for writing up Obama's comedy stylings at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in yesterday's paper. The reaction to Obama's bit seems to break according to political loyalties: Dems tend to think the president was hilarious, Republicans hate everything he does, including telling jokes. But whether Obama was funny or not wasn't the point, at least it wasn't *my* point. I was noting something factual (and perhaps duller): that the "tone" and style of presidential joke-telling has changed under Obama. Not to belabor the point, but presidents have tended to use these lighthearted press dinners to tell a few good-natured jokes about themselves; Obama reversed the polarity and made jokes about everyone ELSE, including a number of Republicans.

I'm not saying that's good or bad, just that it is. But you tell me: Good? Bad? Doesn't really matter one way or another? Personally, I think one's sense of humor is a pretty interesting indicator of personality. Again, I won't say what this style of humor indicates about Obama's personality. But you can.
In other news: R.I.P.  Lynn Redgrave, 67, she of movies ("Georgy Girl," "Shine," "Gods and Monsters"), TV shows, Broadway and the once-ubiquituous weight-loss commercials, and she of the famous acting family (sister Vanessa, father Michael, niece Natasha Richardson, who died a year ago, and brother Corin, who died last month)....And R.I.P.: Helen Wagner, age 91, who played Nancy Hughes on "As the World Turns" for 54 years. I can't say as I ever saw Ms. Wagner, even once, but--dang!--54 years in the same role? Mind blowing. I wonder if she ever had trouble distinguishing between herself and her character. I also wonder how she managed to stay interested in the same role, decade after decade. In any event, a helluva run!
And by now, I'm sure you've seen the wonderful parody of  Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video by some members of the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan. This, ladies and germs, is what we're fighting for! What could be more American than this, combining all of our finest qualities? Freedom of expression? Check. Youthful exuberance and impromptu creativity? Check. A sense of rhythm, a sense of humor, brotherhood and teamwork? Check again! Makes me proud to be an American. Go, Army!
Okay, let's go to the phones...

Rarely has anyone been so far off base as that silly article you wrote yesterday. Aside from the complete miscasting of Obama's humor as calculated attacks on his enemies, how is it possible you could have missed the pleasant, good-natured character of the ribbing he gave others, nor the self-deprecation apparent to everyone else in practically every word of this speech? Moreover, why did you feel there was any value in reducing such an atypically fun and light-hearted moment into an exercise in partisan scorekeeping?

Assume you're being facetitious.  But, really, no scorekeeping here.  Love it or hate it (or something in between, or no reaction at all), Obama's humor was/is different than his predecessors. That's worth nothing, I think.

I was not really troubled by the joke Letterman told that got him into a spat with Palin. Over the line (as the facts became known - i.e., which daughter), but not an impeachable offense. But in the context of how that developed and was covered, I was surprised by a joke Obama told over the weekend. Again, I'm not troubled by it, but am surprised by the non-coverage. The cultural lesson? 1. Joke about statutory rape against someone else's daughter - NOT OK (see Letterman and Palin) 2. Joke about statutory rape against your own daughters - OK (see Obama's joke about his daughters (underage) and the Jonas Brothers (youngest is almost 18)) As you recall, at the Correspondents' Dinner Obama said his daughters liked the Jonas Brothers (who were in the room), but if they were considering doing anything about it, he reminded them that he has "predator drones". In the world of cultural observation, did anyone notice? If not...?

It didn't occur to me that that joke was about statuatory rape, but I guess you could stretch it to that conclusion. More important was that joke was a joke about predator drones, which have killed many civilians in the name of fighting terrorists. I think there was some criticism to the effect that that's not something the president should be joking about.

So, you think Obama and Ford are apt comparisons? Has the culture changed any in the past 35 years? How were Betty Ford's biceps? How many stadiums of 80,000 people did Jerry address? I thought your criticism was way off-base. Our culture has changed dramatically. What's "proper" is now influenced quite a bit less by the blue-nosed elderly. Did you not consider Obama's humor in the context of his favorite pasttime: the basketball court? His digs are precisely the kind leveled by someone on the court, trying to throw off an opponent's game. Of course, he has made fun of himself and his image numerous times. Maybe he should focus on that more. Maybe he should scrap the tradition and play the humorless straight man. Maybe he should skip the dinner so as not to be seen attending frivolous, insiderish events. Or maybe we should chill, laugh a bit, take things in the spirit they're given, and focus our criticism on real matters that warrant it. (And wonder how it is that Obama's political speechwriters are so much better than Jay Leno's -- and worry that they may decide to cash in and go to Hollywood.)

Again, I never said that it's wrong, or truly criticized it (re-read it and see). I just that it IS....But let me address your point: Do you really think the culture of the basketball court should guide the President of the United States in his after-dinner speaking?

Dude, You spent your whole column the other day basically criticizing Obama for not being self-deprecating with his humor, under the guise of "joke analysis." I get it, there is likely a general effort by you all to prove that you are not in Obama's pocket, but wasn't that a little much? Obama has virtually only one forum every year where he can gently criticize those who spend virtually 100 percent of their time criticizing him in the most crazy, personal, over the top way. I'm sure he sees this as a poltiical opportunity for the president to point out his foes absurdities without it substantially reducing the office of the presidency. An opportunity that he doesn't often get. Couldn't you get anyone to say that, instead of everyone just being critical?

Oh, really? So he doesn't have dozens of press conferences, hundreds of interviews, multiple formal speeches to get his criticism and point of view across? I didn't realize the president was so muzzled. Free Obama!

Paul A couple of times per year , for a smile, I tune in to WMAL in the morning to hear what Andy and Gopher (Grandy) have to rant about. This morning there was some other clown spewing, ah elucidating ,on the evils of "radical Islamic terrorism" What happened to A and G ? Not conservative enough ? Did they run off and join the circus? Is Grandy the goofy looking dancing guy in those Six Flags commercials ?

Andy is out. Cost-cutting move by Citadel Broadcasting, which owns WMAL. Chris Plante ("the other clown") is in as his (presumably cheaper) replacement.

"Of course, he has made fun of himself and his image numerous times" I must have missed those numerous examples of self-deprecating humor. On the contrary, whenever there were events where the "comedian" was making fun of him or herself, President Obama used his time to make fun of his political "enemies." If that is the future of politics, then it isn't a welcome one.

Here's my theory: We're all so attuned to this style of humor these days (via Letterman, Daily Show, Colbert, Kimmel, SNL, etc. etc.) that the president is just going with that particular flow.  But implicit in my story (if I can give it this much credit) is the following question: Is this an appropriate style of humor for the president to engage in?

Obama doesn't need to tell jokes about himself. That's Fox News' job.

I won't take the bait offered here ("bash Fox News," says the Devil conscience, while the Angel conscience advises otherwise).  But  maybe Obama just wants a little payback. He did tell several anti-media jokes the other night.

Great question, Paul. I would respond that it might as well, because this administration is governing by the rules of the hardwood. If you have a 7-footer with sharp elbows, you're a fool to run fancy plays instead of pounding it inside. Like him or not, Obama came into office as a 7-footer, and Rahm certainly has sharp elbows, and their trash-talking is part of their game.

I hadn't considered his jokes an extension of his administration's tone or style. And I'm not sure I buy it now.

Remember John Housman's imperious law professor on The Paper Chase, how his classroom demeanor aimed at keeping his students off balance so they could learn to think quickly on their feet? The president is a former law professor and I think a certain attitude slips into his on camera behavior quite often, whether taking casual questions from journos or giving a speech. There's an air of, "Look....I know you're doing your best to keep up, but really..." As brilliant as Bill Clinton is, he always had savvy political instincts that kept him from seeming intellectually arrogant. I don't think the current president has that skill. (And I voted for him and would again.)

Again, not touching this. But I will say that Obama uses the "Look..." etc. construction a lot. That has always struck me as a little too aggressive and argumentative in ANY speaker. Look yourself.

I am a big fan of Lynn Redgrave and am saddened by her untimely death. I remember her TV sitcom, "House Calls", which I liked. It was aired in that 9:30 monday night CBS comfy timeslot. I know she was fired from the show, and the show was canceled. Do you think that hurt her career for the rest of the 1980s? Lynn was indeed typecast at first, but when the supporting role in Gods and Monsters came along, she cracked that barrier forever. She will be missed.

I wasn't aware of the backstory there, so I really don't know if that hurt her. I would say she went on to lots and lots of things after the TV show--movies, Broadway roles, etc. She seemed to work quite a lot.

Isn't Obama's "Predator Drones" line analogous to the "Shotgun and a Shovel/Cleaning my Guns" line that any number of fathers have used jokingly about their daughters' suitors? I've used that line countless times, always in jest. I never intended to make like of murder, or of the thousands of senseless deaths of victims of gun violence across the country. It's just a joke.

Yeah, that's exactly the way I read it the first time I heard it, too. And I've used the same joke, too. But---pause--I'm not president. And I don't have the power to order predator drone strikes. Reagan joked into an open mic about "The bombing will begin in five minutes..." It caused panic and outrage. It was a joke, too.

I did wince at the Jonas Bros/predator drones joke, but mostly because it appeared to violate the "no attacks" rule that supposed to apply to politicians' children (although that apparently doesn't apply to Palin's children). But Obama could have gotten the same laugh by simply threatening to appoint the Jonas boys good will ambassodors to North Korea or Iran or something equally silly. Overall, I thouht that Obama came off as remarkly intent on getting back at folks and quite thin-skinned.

I like the North Korea/Iran construction better. Takes the harsh "death" angle out of the joke, but makes the same point (i.e., I will use my powers as president to pay you back). Would have gotten a laugh AND no one would really question it (except maybe Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahma...Ahma...well, you know.

To borrow Robert Heinlein's joke classification from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I thought the "Predator drones" joke was "funny-once".

Well, he only told it once, so I think Obama would be okay in Heinlein's book, AC...

Re: "Oh, really? So he doesn't have dozens of press conferences, hundreds of interviews, multiple formal speeches to get his criticism and point of view across? I didn't realize the president was so muzzled. Free Obama!" Dude, (I hope) you know that the president needs to appear above the political fray and cannot poke, prod, or in any way offer meaningful payback to his political enemies without appearing to stoop to their level. When, in any of those interviews etc. you cite, has he ever more than glancingly and gently criticized his political openents? When has he heve been able to gently mock Sarah Palin for being unqualified and not smart? Never. When can he mock Boehner, who makes the most absurd and constant and uneducated public comments about the president and his policies? Never. This is his one chance, and he decided to take it. And everybody but you thought it was pretty funny, "...better than Jay."

Well, again, please don't distort what I'm saying. For the 12th time, I've NEVER commented on whether it was funny or not. That wasn't my point...But since you raised the point, why should the president--the most powerful man on the planet--ever mock anyone, in any context? He can argue, he can rebut, he can express his point of view. But mock?

It really is too bad that we cannot have a civil discussion in this country on any issue, even on good and bad tones of humor from the president, without each side being nastry, snarky and mean. Sad.

Well, I hope I'm not being nasty, but your point is well taken. Snark has taken over everything, it appears.

What was your take on the "60 Minutes" piece? I think that Conan came off as a bit self-absorbed. Apparently, it was dishonorable for Leno to return to 11:30 when asked, but completely honorable for him to refuse to do the "Tonight Show" at 12, even though his contract allowed it.

I think Conan is on the verge of protesting too much. It's clear he's bitter about the whole thing, but he tried so hard at first to take the high road. Frankly, he has everyone (but NBC) on his side--the media, the fans, etc.  There's no need for him to keep grinding an axe that has been very finely sharpened for him.

No, but as a father, you have the "power" to purchase a gun and use it. Same thing, only at a "presidential level." That said, there's a good chance you're right. Maybe we as a society are not ready for this. If everyone cannot have a good laugh at the giant level of absurdity involved in the president ordering a *Predator Drone Strike against the Jonas Brothers*, maybe we aren't ready. I don't know, I thought it was hilarious.

Okay, let's try this. Change "predator drone strike" to "tactical nuke."  Still funny? No--scary! Why? Because a tactical nuke would kill hundreds of thousands of people.   But if that's offensive, why isn't "predator drone strike"? Predator strikes kill dozens. So, the only difference is the number of people killed. Killing dozens is funnier than killing hundreds of thousands? How?

Paul, I was thinking even before the dinner that the president -- any president -- might be better off declining to attend. There is no up side. Think of memorable presidential performances and how they came back to bit them. The video of the First Dog at Christmas ("A waste of taxpayer dollars"), the search for WMDs ("Laughter in the face of tragedy"), warning the Jonas Brothers with Predator drones (akin to Grandpa sitting on the front porch with a shotgun, but "How many hundreds of civilians have the drones killed?") and how much more awful would it have been if the Times Square bomb had actually detonated during the dinner? Everyone says Lincoln had a good sense of humor and told great jokes. Maybe we missed a valuable portion of history by not having recorders around in those days. Then again, maybe he and we are better off.

Well, I'd hate for the president to STOP trying to be funny. Why can't he tell a joke now and again? Too grim, too...Nixonian if there's no humor in the Oval Office.  So maybe the question is, what kind of jokes are the right kind for the president? Again, that's what I was essentially asking in yesterday's article.

Since last week's chat was about MacGruber, have you seen the reviews it's gotten on RottenTomatoes? Last I saw, there were six of them, and all positive... Granted, they aren't the most prestigious film critics, but still... this could actually be a decent film. I saw the trailer this past weekend when I saw Nightmare (ugh...), and, I'll admit, I was a bit captivated.

I've actually heard pretty positive buzz on it. Maybe it's good! The goofy spy/undercover operative thing worked well for Mike Myers and Austin Powers, and before him, James Coburn as Derek Flint.

I've always thought that was kind of hilarious. Of course, it happened when I was still a wee kid. People really took it seriously?

I think it got the Russians' attention, yes....

OK, I'm going to try and say something reasonable about this. I didn't see the show and the clips on the news showed only clips of Obama zinging others. Certianly, it's fair to question the psychology of that. People constantly question GWB's motives for doing things. I did notice however that when looking for a comment from a writer who has written for both parties, the guy you used was then quickly cited as writing gags for three Republican presidents. Perhaps not all that fair-minded ?? You also properly noted that these presidential appearances can blow up in their face ala GWB and his looking for WMD. Presidents deal with very serious matters and it strikes me as inappropiate to make jokes about them. All in all, I think the Correspondents dinner shouldn't even exist.

Landon Parvin, the guy you're referring to, has also written material for Democrats. I also quoted Mark Katz, who was Clinton's humor writer. Katz's point is that Clinton always wanted to "get" people in these lighthearted speeches, and Katz and other White House operatives had to rein him in.

To quote a classic film: "Lighten up, Francis."

I've used that line about 6,000 times when some joke I made offended someone/hurt someone's feelings/raised an eyebrow or two. Never really makes anything better.

Lynn Redgrave, whose firing from House Calls involved the "disruption" of nursing her child, had a good career afterward at least partially because she wrote one-woman plays for herself and was willing to do commercials. When those were successful, she began getting other work. I'm saddened by her loss. I was lucky enough to see her in Boston several years ago, and her comic timing was priceless.

She's one of those people you don't fully appreciate until you see the breadth of their career. She had a very impressive range, from sitcoms to Broadway to "serious" movie roles to commercials. And, yes, to writing her own material, too.

"When, in any of those interviews etc. you cite, has he ever more than glancingly and gently criticized his political opponents? " Perhaps this poster has not watched Obama's pep rallies. He mocked those who opposed Health-Care Reform. He was dismissive of the concerns of Tea Party members. Whether or not it should be considered the "correct" thing for a president to do, President Obama has never been shy of showing...contempt is a little harsh, but something along those lines...for those who have differing opinions. I guess it is understandable. Those who don't march in lock step with the administration are just to feeble-minded to understand the benefits of what he is trying to achieve. At least the Washington Post was kind enough to review a book on HCR that will set them straight!

Has he really "mocked" his opponents or simply, you know, opposed them? I just don't recall him mocking people. But maybe I missed something. Or a lot of things.

It's nice that Conan thinks he wouldn't have taken the Tonight Show back if he had been in the same position as Leno. Too bad he doesn't see an equal wrong in getting Leno kicked off the Tonight Show in the first place.

I'm not sure why this is personalized this way--i.e., Conan got Leno kicked off, Leno got Conan kicked off. It's not like they made the decision(s). Look, (as Obama would say), these were business decisions made by the brass at NBC, not Conan or Leno. If you don't like 'em, blame Jeff Zucker (and plenty of people have).

I don't see what the big deal is. Almost all politicians tell jokes at the expense of their opponents, and it has ever been thus. (I loved Gerald Ford's line during their race for the Republican nomination that "Ronald Reagan doesn't dye his hair, he's just prematurely orange.") Why can't Obama get in some jabs in this forum?

Next thought experiment: Hillary Clinton is president. She goes to the White House Correspondents' dinner and drops a bunch of bombs (verbal, not Predator-oriented) on her opponents. What's the reaction the next day?

"Do you really think the culture of the basketball court should guide the president of the United States in his after-dinner speaking?" My question prompted your response above. T American in the White House. There are elements in this White House culturally that are unprecendented. Should the president's daughter wear braided hair? Well, yes she should; it's a reflection of her culture. It's appropriate for the president to reflect his own culture, which is not "street" by any means, but which is quite different from the culture of Ford, Nixon, Reagan or even Bill Clinton. Should the president fully reflect the demeanor of a basketball court, in its over-the-topness? Of course not. But should an African-American president be allowed to be who he is as an African American -- a culture that's reflected in the basketball court, the barbershop, the church, etc. You betcha. Should he adopt that 60s boardroom style that you seem to associate with presidential demeanor? Nope. That's change I can believe in (as a suburban-raised white guy).

Thoughtful answer, and I thank you for it. I would only add the following: the President is both an individual (with his own specific history, personality, points of view, etc.) AND the inheritor  of certain historical traditions of the office.  As president, he can't be only one thing and not the other.

This is what I think the organizers should have done: gotten Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito to appear as a surprise guest and throw a few zingers at Obama, especially with respect to the SOTU speech (or even Roberts's boo boo at the inauguration). Yes, I know that would NEVER happen But it would have been quite funny.

Yes, and would have shown that the prez can take it as well as dish it out. That's the whole point of self-deprecating humor; it makes you seem good natured, and self-confident (i.e., I'm big enough to acknowledge my weaknesses or the criticisms about me).

""Of course, he has made fun of himself and his image numerous times" I must have missed those numerous examples of self-deprecating humor" Your writer should do a pretty simple search. There's the Al Smith dinner with McCain. There was last weekend's WHCD, not to mention last year's. There was the State of the Union address (after he said that he'd invite Republican leaders over to the White House more frequently: "I know you'll look forward to that.") People see what they want to see. I support Obama. I tend to lend him a good deal of good will. But then again, I didn't particularly like GWB, yet I tried to give him kudos when he struck a right note, either on policy (immigration, Africa, urban education) or personal (seems like a very decent husband and father and loyal friend).

I'll avoid getting into partisan caricatures here. Suffice to say, I don't think of Obama as particularly mean-spirited.

If you really wanted to hear humorless, heavy-handed commentary, you should have heard Radio Moscow after Reagan's speech. Airless

I dunno. Put the shoe on the other footsky. If Gorby made the same offhand joke,  I think we'd get a little freaked out here, too.

I'm offended because there are other types of drones out there, you know! Why does the Predator always get the press? Hmph.

It's the name-brand drone! What's  No. 2 on the most-popular drone names list?

It's a legitimate criticism to say that Obama's style is a little removed, which shades into aloof and disdainful. It's not legitimate to say that Obama "mocks" his opponents in public appearances (excluding the WHCD), especially when you remember that his opponents routinely accuse him of treason and other actual crimes. There's an old political story in which someone -- let's say Speaker Joe Martin (R-Mass.), but it could be anyone -- was approached by a junior congressman who referred to the Democrats as "our enemies," and Martin said, "They're our opponents, son, not our enemies." I don't like anyone who claims that an American hates America, and I hate what that attack style is doing to my party in particular and politics in general.

I'm totally with you there. We could all do with a little chilling out on the name-calling. Great quote!

Well, yeah, the Flint movies were Bond spoofs, but they worked because James Coburn had a quotient of cool matched only by Steve McQueen. Hard to imagine Mike Myers in The Magnificent Seven or the Great Escape.

I saw "Our Man Flint" (written by Ben Starr, dad of my childhood friend Carol!) the other day, and I was struck by how that movie kind of wanted it both ways. It had some Bond-parody silliness, but it also had moments when it took itself kinda seriously. But totally agree on Coburn--always watchable!

I do miss the Cold War sometimes.

Yes, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Berlin airlift, Cuban missile crisis, imminent threat of nuclear annihilation, etc. etc. Sigh. Good times, man. Good times...

"Dude, (I hope) you know that the president needs to appear above the political fray and cannot poke, prod, or in any way offer meaningful payback to his political enemies without appearing to stoop to their level." Well, not exactly. That's a stylistic choice. The president could, if he wanted, stand up in the White House press room and say something like, "John Boehner and the Republicans hurt the American people by doing X, Y, and Z." But he thinks he is helped by NOT calling out the GOP most of the time, so what we get instead is "John Boehner is a person of color." I'd love to read an article that explores the political calculus whereby the White House thinks it's bad form to criticize the GOP in a news context but not so bad to make jokes about the GOP -- and for that matter other Democrats. I think Paul is disingenuous to conclude that his article doesn't imply that Obama is wrong to mock others more than himself. But presidential speaking style is an absolutely legitimate subject.

Yes, there's a lot to be said about "appearing presidential." Which is, maybe again, what I was trying to get at (in my disingenous way): Is doing joke after joke about your opponents and critics a ways to "appear presdential"? As someone  (can't remember who) once said, I report, you decide.

When did snark start creeping into public discourse? I've been watching Buffy reruns and it occurred to me that that was the first TV show that I watched written in such a style (although it was a very sweet brand of snark). The Website "Television Without Pity" was also good at that, in varying degrees.

Well, of course, there's no official start (or snark) date to this. I remember when Letterman was up and coming in the 1980s. There were lots of articles then declaring his popularity evidence that we were in an age of irony. So maybe it started then. Or not.

Why isn't ABC News on WMAL in the morning anymore? It's on at other times of the day? Is that a cost-cutting measure too? Do you think Andy Parks is going to another station? I miss Grandy and Andy together. Chris Plante is okay around 10 a.m. but not in the morning.

I may have this bollixed up, but I believe WMAL's owner, Citadel, owns the ABC news feed (or at least holds the rights to syndicate it to stations). So cost can't really be an explanation there. I'm not really sure.

WRC was the last local network to convert its local newscast to HD and, wow, their set design is awful! Who came up with the set, and who chose to shoot the anchors from so far away?!

Channel 4 was the last of the major local stations to the HD party. It was about time, too. It's had the leading newscasts in town for about 107 years. I don't know the particulars on who designed the set, but it's only a couple of weeks old. Maybe there will be some tweaking.

Wait, which was the Redgrave who thought Saddam Hussein was aces during Desert Storm? Was it Vanessa?

That SOUNDS like Vanessa, who stuck her neck out many times about Israel's treatment of Palestinians. There was quite a lot of controversy about it the year (1979) when she won the Oscar for "Julia." She gave an infamous acceptance speech about "Zionist hoodlums."

I just got around to reading the background paragraph at the bottom. So what's up with Bill Moyers?

He's signing off from his PBS show, "Bill Moyers Journal." Unclear what'll be next for him.

You hit the nail on the head, Paul. I like Conan. I'll probably watch his new show. I was sympathetic to his plight, though I didn't blame Jay as much as Jeff. But enough already. In the history of severance packages, his is one of the best; plus, the less he commented on it, the more people got behind him. It is a win-win for all, with the exception that: NBC got tarnished, Leno didn't do himself any favors in public perception, and Conan lost the one thing he said he had always wanted (this sounds like a Wizard of Oz cast of character traits- who gets the heart/brain/courage?). Requisite Coburn pic rec: Sergio Leone's unjustly overlooked "Duck, You Sucker". Classic.

Yes, and frankly, it's hard to see how this whole thing "damaged" him. He got $33 million for walking away and his own show on cable. So, he didn't get "The Tonight Show." Well, neither did Letterman.

Harry Truman certainly didn't hold back on letting it be known what he thought about the people with whom he dealt, and I don't see what the problem is with that. Governing the country is usually a pretty raw business. It's not a, well, tea party.

Very true. And Truman's blunt-speaking style (it wasn't comedy, by the way) really divided the country. Some people really, really disliked him for it.

My esteemed producer, Mr. R. Fisch, who knows a thing or two about TV, offers the following comment on Chan. 4's new HD set: "The set and anchor "talent" are shot wide or maybe it's a function of its Hi-Def-ishness, not sure. They do look far away and sometimes there's not a live pic in the huge key monitor behind them."

I usually just watch in the morning, and besides the ugly set, they've managed to make the people look gray and haggard (Joe Krebs and Tom Keirein in particular). Sure, everyone ages, and HD is not kind, but that's no excuse -- the networks have shown that with good makeup and lighting, you can still make people look good or at least OK in HD. (For example, Meredith Vieira is not young, and I think she looks great on Today.)

There was a lot of fear a few years back that HD would ruin some people's careers. I don't think that's happened, for the very reasons you mention. There are ways to deal with it, via make up and lighting.

It's still kicking around YouTube, but that is the one that started it all- and while I give our guys credit for stellar Gaga lipsynching, Ramadi put SNL to shame.

Excellent historical perspective! Thanks for mentioning it...

If Al Franken were to be elected president, would it be okayfor him to tell jokes about his political opponents? You certainly couldn't claim that it would be out of character.

But that's a great point! When Franken ran for Senate his long history of derisive comedy became an issue in the campaign. And Franken--who is a very funny guy--downplayed his sense of humor when he was running. It was clearly a liability for him. I notice, too, that he hasn't said ONE memorably amusing thing since he took office. He's waay better than that, but I think he fears he won't be taken seriously if he starts joking around.

History has borne out that Truman was one of our best presidents, but before he handed the reins to Ike, Harry S. had GWB-like approval numbers. I mean, even Nixon had Skynyrd fans and the Silent Majority to fall back on. Truman didn't even have that.

Well, approval ratings often come from factors beyond the president's control (the economy, how well a war is going, etc.), but I wonder how much of Harry's unpopularity was personal. I wonder if his sharp elbows made him a lot of unnecessary enemies, er, opponents.

Folks, that's all the time I have for this week. But there's more where that came from next week, so let's reassemble then. Thanks for the lively (as always) discussion. We'll return to more non-partisan topics next week (possible subjects: teddy bears, cats vs. dogs, "tastes great" vs. "less filling" ). Y'all come 'round. In the meantime, as always, regards to all! ...Paul

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Paul Farhi
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