Samantha Bee Hits the Media Hard for Its Role in the Election

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Yahoo TV
Photo: TBS
Photo: TBS

During the course of the election season, Samantha Bee used Full Frontal to launch attacks on poor behavior and hypocrisy from both the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (and, for that matter, Bernie Sanders) sides of the campaign. Postelection, she’s also emphasizing something that was often implicit in her satirical critiques: the role of the media in allowing dreadful things to happen to the American public.

On Monday night, for instance, Bee devoted the bulk of her show to breaking down the just-announced appointments made by President-elect Trump, including the appalling Breitbart News honcho Stephen Bannon as Trump’s “chief strategist.” Referring to Bannon as Trump’s “alt-right-hand man,” Bee played a clip of a CNN anchor who noted that Bannon’s appointment was now alarming many people. Bee was flabbergasted: “Today Trump has fueled racial concerns? Today? Bannon joined the campaign last summer! How is CNN just discovering [this]?”

One of Bee’s points is that the media tends to treat each new day as though nothing had happened during the previous 24 hours — that we’re always starting with a clean slate, free of history, with no dots connected to earlier actions. It’s the media version of Paul Ryan’s reaction when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked the speaker of the House whether he was troubled by Bannon’s appointment: “I’ve never met Steve Bannon, I don’t know him, so I have no concerns,” said Ryan in the clip Bee played. Get it? Grappling with appointees who could affect the lives of millions doesn’t require responsibility or study; it’s just a matter of giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, no matter what his previous history might suggest.

I was struck by a line Bee dropped on Monday night that didn’t elicit a big laugh, partly because she may have uttered it so quickly, in the midst of so many other tightly constructed jokes, but also perhaps because its full meaning didn’t become clear until you thought about it for a moment. She played a clip of a news talking head saying that bully-boy commentator Corey Lewandowski would “resign from CNN to accept a position in the Trump administration.” Said Bee: “Why would he need to leave CNN to do that?” In other words, Lewandowski had already been doing the work of the nascent Trump administration as a CNN employee. Indeed, you might deduce, he was even more effective for Trump as a CNN straw man than he’ll be once he leaves that influential media perch.

It’s clear how Bee is going to frame a significant amount of Full Frontal in the Trump years: as a referendum on how spineless and amnesic the TV news media has been, and remains.

Full Frontal airs Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.