NEW YORK—President George W. Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry have not been spared by US comedians who have constantly lampooned the US presidential contenders in a comic assault led by a widely watched fake newscast.
The parody news show, The Daily Show, has been at the center stage of political satire this election season, and its 42-year-old fake anchor, Jon Stewart, has been featured in magazine, newspaper and television interviews.
Stewart’s program has kept Americans entertained at the expense of Bush and Kerry, whose campaign themes include such deadly serious subjects as the war in Iraq and terrorism.
In a sign of his influence and irreverence, Stewart recently interviewed Kerry, asking the Massachusetts senator, who is married to ketchup fortune heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry, “Is it true that every time I use ketchup, your wife gets a nickel?”
“This year comedy has been like a fifth estate,” said Robert Thompson, a television and popular culture professor at Syracuse University in New York state. The media is referred to as the “fourth estate” after the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
“In the daily show, the observations are trenchant, sophisticated,” Thompson said. “By presenting a fake newscast, The Daily Show also shows all the kinds of different ways in which the news is failing or making mistakes.”
The Television Critics Association even named The Daily Show, which is broadcast on the Comedy Central cable station, best news and information program of the year. The show is widely watched by young Americans.
“I’ve been watching it religiously,” said Andrew Sessa, a journalist who was among hundreds of fans who recently attended a lecture given by Stewart at New York’s Public Library.
The Pew Research Center said 21 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 21 get their information from The Daily Show and NBC television’s sketch program Saturday Night Live, which also features a fake news show and segments with Bush and Kerry imitators.
One of Amory Meltzer’s favorite segments in The Daily Show show is “Mess’O’Potamia,” which pokes fun at the situation in Iraq.
“They make you think,” said Meltzer, a student. “They give you issues, they present facts with a hilarious story.”
But Stewart’s critique of Iraq has been slammed by Fox News channel’s conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly, who called Stewart’s program a “dopey show” watched by “stoned slackers.”
The show covered the Democratic and Republican parties’ national conventions in July and September, with witty correspondents baiting politicians with embarrassing questions.
After one of the presidential debates recently, one correspondent pretended to faint in front of regular news reporters after Bush and Kerry advisers insisted that their respective candidate had won the televised face-off.
Stewart has poked fun at both candidates.
Bush, he once said, “has overcome an incredible lack of obstacles to attain his successes.”
Taking a cue from Kerry opponents who have questioned whether he really deserved Purple Heart medals for injuries he sustained in the Vietnam War, Stewart said: “For John Kerry, the quest started early. Upon being slapped at birth, Kerry applied for, and was awarded, the first of his 27 Purple Hearts.”
The candidates, meanwhile, have tried their hands at comedy, but Thompson believes the two rivals have not excelled at tickling voters’ funny bones.
“I give an A for how well comedy is engaging in the political process, I give a C for the number of funny moments this campaign has brought us,” he said.
Stewart’s show is not the only program that has found a wealth of humor in the presidential campaign.
Saturday Night Live and late night show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman have taken shots at Kerry and Bush all year.
‘[Vice President Dick] Cheney says he has no intention of running for president,” Leno said once. “Three reasons: one, he’d be too old. Two, health reasons. And, third, he’s already been president.”
Letterman has taken aim at Bush’s daughters, who are known for their love of partying.
“To give you an idea how cold it is here in New York City, the Bush twins switched from margaritas to Irish coffee,” Letterman quipped.
By Catherine Hours