Levity comes to Aspen Ideas Festival | AspenTimes.com

Levity comes to Aspen Ideas Festival

Michael Che, left, and Colin Jost, co-anchors of Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live" having a laugh at the Afternoon of Conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

This week’s Aspen Ideas Festival has offered plenty of nonpartistan, heady discussions on all things serious — be it health care reform, America’s racial divide or the Syrian refugee crisis, among other issues. But for roughly 40 minutes Wednesday, two “Saturday Night Live” writer-performers — “Weekend Update” co-anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che — mixed levity with irreverent political insight.

“If (Donald) Trump was president of any other country, I’d be like, ‘Yo, Donald Trump’ is hilarious,” Che said. “Everybody likes Trump except when he is your dad.”

SNL’s parodies of the Trump administration are nothing new; no commander-in-chief has been immune to the NBC program’s biting mockery.

But lampooning Trump has ushered in new creative challenges for SNL writers, chiefly because the unpredictable president can make big news waves without any notice using his Twitter account. Che and Jost on several occasions have found themselves cranking out material for the upcoming show, only to spike it and rewrite a new segment because Trump made a news splash on a Friday.

“It’s kind of hard to keep up,” Che said. “People think it’s great because it’s so much content, but it’s not. And also, he beats us to the punch a lot of times.”

Moderated by Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hard Ball,” the discussion involved much Trump bashing but mainly from Matthews, who said the biggest news of each day is that “our president is Donald J. Trump” and that White House spokesman Sean Spicer often “looks scared to death.”

“I just wish he wasn’t our president,” Che said.

Later, Jost offered: “I’m not rooting for him to be bad president. I’m rooting for him to be a good president.”

Jost said there’s no doubting Trump watches “SNL.”

“I don’t think he can stop himself from watching it,” he said. “You look at his office, (there are hanging pictures) of every magazine he’s ever been in.”

How Trump views comedians who parody him and journalists who cover him is clear, the two said. The president’s disdain for more reporters is much greater than it is for comedians.

“I don’t think he hates us because he thinks he’s better than us,” Che said. “But journalists, I think he really hates.”

Che also injected some dim commentary about one of Aspen’s crown jewels — the Silver Queen Gondola.

“I hated the gondola,” he said of his Tuesday ride up Aspen Mountain. “I thought it would be a nice, casual boat ride upstream. It’s the opposite of that. It’s being dangled from the heavens and it sucks, and people pay good money for it. … The wind is blowing and whispering that you shouldn’t be up here. And then it just stops, and there’s no intercom saying that this happens all the time. You’ve just got to guess it happens all the time, and that’s it.”

Trust in the media and Trump

President Trump’s accusations that such media agencies as The New York Times and CNN are reporting fake news or that they are the enemy of the state makes one wonder if it’s all part of a big reality show.

So said Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of The Atlantic magazine, in another discussion, this one moderated by Yahoo Global News anchor Katie Couric.

“Part of my reaction is we’re all engaged in a reality-TV situation,” he said. “This is reality TV.”

Goldberg said his biggest fear of the Trump presidency’s influence is that “somebody is going to do something violent against a journalist.”

Yet Trump, some panelists said, is simply expressing a view that many Americans feel toward the media.

“Unfortunately, a steady decline in trust in the media is because a very large part of this country has not felt served by the mainstream news media for a long time,” said Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones.

That shunned group doesn’t live on the West or East coasts, but instead in middle America, which, while having its own local media coverage, doesn’t see its problems or sentiments consistently covered by national media outlets, panelists noted.

Trump, whose campaign to the White House included mocking some of his most serious opponents — “lyin’ Ted Cruz” and “crooked Hillary Clinton” were the ways he described two of his challengers — also has helped mold public perception with his choice of words, Baker said.

“He certainly has done a very effective job. … I do think we have this phenomenon, you have a plethora of media, you have this situation where people choose their own news, their own facts. He does a very good job diverting attention from the facts, and I think many people are willing to go along with that.”

There was the dust-up over the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, one he declared the largest in U.S. history, which captured the national media’s attention.

“I would swear he genuinely believes his inauguration crowd was larger,” said Nancy Gibbs, editor of Time magazine.

Trump’s presidency also comes at a time when just about anyone can wear a journalism hat, thanks to social media and the internet, Gibbs said.

“We are living in a time where everybody can be a publisher, a citizen journalist and express their views and do their investigations. … It is keeping everyone honest in a way, challenging us if we get something wrong, pushing us outside our comfort zones,” she said.

But in today’s landscape dotted with clickbait, deep, thorough reporting still has its place, Goldberg said.

“We’ve never had more print subscribers,” he said. “We made a certain bet that the scarcest commodity in journalism right now is quality journalism, and there are millions of people who want quality journalism. I take that as a sign of a healthy democracy and quality journalism.”

And, said Joanne Lipman, editor-in-chief of USA Today: “What we see at the local level is you still do see trust in the media, and that’s because you have local reporters ingrained in their community.”


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