As a truly punishing news cycle continues unabated, James Comey and Sean Spicer have become household names, and dissecting unpresidential tweets and New York Times investigations has become the new water cooler conversation. In the era of the reality TV president and the endlessly entertaining end of the world, good old-fashioned scripted television appears to have taken a back seat.
So, naturally, when gathering at the Turner 2017 Upfront, talk turned to The White House.
For the CNN news personalities in attendance, Trump has made the political more personal than ever, turning an already demanding job into a downright exhausting endeavor. As Jake Tapper joked to The Daily Beast, “I’m already worrying about checking my phone after I’m done talking to you, to see what stories have broken in the last minute,” estimating that in Trump news-land, two minutes feels more like two weeks. “To be honest, it’s very challenging,” he continued, “And it requires a lot of discipline and a lot of focus and a lot of energy. But it’s an important time for the Fourth Estate—it’s an important time for journalists who are covering this presidency to rise to the moment, to not get swept up by emotion, to cover the facts, to break stories, and to make sure that everybody gets a chance to weigh in on the stories. The media needs to rebuild the trust that a lot of people have lost in us, so it’s an exhilarating moment, but yes, it’s exhausting as well.”
When asked to comment on whether or not Trump—a man who was elected president after at least twelve women accused him of sexual assault—is still capable of shocking him, The Lead anchor quickly rebutted with a list of “shocking” actions from this week and last week alone.
“I’m shocked that he said that he fired James Comey, I’m shocked that he shared information that was classified with Russia—information that, by the way, his administration continues to ask CNN not to report about the details of that laptop threat. I’m shocked that he, according to Comey, asked him to drop the Flynn case. I am still quite capable of being stunned by the things that I hear, from credible sources, about this President.” Tapper concluded, “I think it’s important that we retain our ability to be shocked—we should not lower our standards as a society just because somebody with such disdain for conventions is president.”
Less shocking, perhaps, is the praise that Tapper has received for his ‘round the clock coverage of the current administration. Still, the anchor is trying not to get distracted by what he perceives as fair weather acclaim. “It’s weird,” Tapper mused, “because I was pretty tough on Obama too, and it’s weird how many people who hated me for eight years now praise me, and people who praised me for eight years now hate me…It’s always nice to be complimented though! But I’m still going to be doing this job when Oprah’s president, or The Rock, or Chelsea, whoever it is. I’m still going to be doing what I’m doing even when the progressive media is writing mean stories about me.”
At a completely different point on the news spectrum is Samantha Bee, who juggles incisive political commentary and comedy as the host of TBS’ Full Frontal.
Bee acknowledged that every comedian has “their own thing,” meaning their own approach to covering this President, whether that “thing” is a borderline homophobic insult or a jovial hair toss. However, she added that she’s “very, very happy” with her own choice to put President Donald Trump through the wringer weekly. “Is there such a thing as being too critical of this President?” Bee contemplated. “No! I think it’s fair game. When someone is running the country, you have full license to take it as far as you want to. I just don’t believe that the office is so sacred…I actually think it’s literally my patriotic duty to go as hard as humanly possibly on this President.”
Fellow comedian Wanda Sykes echoed Bee’s sentiments, and insisted that Trump’s daily roastings are “deserved”: “We definitely need comedy right now. It’s a great way to start a conversation. People don’t want to be preached to, so if you can get your point across in a funny manner, it definitely helps.” Her Talk Show the Game Show co-host Guy Branum agreed that, “It’s comedy’s job to help, but I think eventually, the House of Representatives has to do their job.”
“Yea,” Sykes laughed, “that would be nice!”
Meanwhile, Full Frontal correspondent Allana Harkin managed to come up with a Trump scenario so outlandish that it would genuinely shock her: “I think if he stood at a podium and just said ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
For chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain, Trump’s decision to host Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office last week was, if not a shock, still particularly disappointing. In the wake of the Kissinger-Trump meeting, a quote from Bourdain’s 2001 book, A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, has been re-circulating on the internet. In the viral excerpt, Bourdain writes that, “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.”
In person, Bourdain is less graphic but no less resolute. “I wrote it in 2001,” he told The Daily Beast, “but it’s just as true today. Kissinger’s someone who if I was in a restaurant, and Kissinger walked into the restaurant, I would leave. Frankly, I think any other option would be inappropriate.” Still, he stopped short of calling the Kissinger chat a new low point for Trump: “I don’t think it’s possible! I think they’re all pretty low. We haven’t reached bottom yet.”
Conversely, Shaquille O’Neal seemed to maintain his November sentiments that Trump “won fair and square,” and “we have to give him a chance.” Well, maybe not the fair and square part. With liberal air quote usage, Shaq insisted to The Daily Beast that, “We voted, so there’s no need to waste time complaining. The man ‘won,’ apparently fair and square, so we need to give him a shot.”
Search Party’s Alia Shawkat argued that Trump is shaking even the most self-centered millennials out of their apathy and apoliticism. Shawkat drew a connection between her critically acclaimed show, which contends with both murder and twenty-something narcissism, and the current political climate. “[Search Party] is about, ‘What would you actually do if shit got real?’ And in a weird way shit is actually getting real right now, and people are asking, ‘What do we do?’”
“Just speaking for myself,” the Arrested Development star continued, “I feel unprepared. We haven’t really been raised to, like, work for our communities, when you live in a Western culture and are pretty much white—I’m not all the way white, but white enough. With that being said, I think it’s actually kind of great. For people like me, it’s not about myself anymore. So much of our lives have been built around that—‘How do you describe yourself? How do you like to look to other people?’—stuff like that. And I think that’s starting to shift. And even though shit’s really dire, the younger generation is so inspiring. People even younger than us too…I’m like, fuck yeah!”