Lynn University historian Robert Watson discusses the impact that shows like "Saturday Night Live" have had on the presidential debates.
Watson on SNL: "‘Saturday Night Live’ did such a great spoof of Al Gore following the first debate in 2000, with all his heavy sighs and the rolling of the eyes, that he came back as the alpha male in the next debate. Remember how he walked right up to Bush and [invaded his personal space]? He looked ridiculous....So SNL has become iconic in a political sense. And perception is reality. The students who don’t remember George Bush’s speeches see him as even a worse communicator than he was because of the [Will Ferrell impersonation] on SNL.
“I always liked Gerald Ford, and I felt he got a bad rap because of the Chevy Chase depiction. Ford was a smart, honorable public servant, and a top football player at Michigan. Even into his 60s and 70s, he was a good swimmer, tennis player and golfer. But because he tripped once coming down the steps of Air Force One meeting the Austrian leader, and because he sliced a golf ball that hits a spectator, Chevy Chase depicted him as a bumbling klutz. So perception becomes reality.”
Watson on nightly comedy shows: "Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert...these shows also have become iconic politically. I don’t know many students who watch the NBC evening news or read The New York Times—but they all watch Stewart or Colbert. That farcical, over-the-top satire is how they view politics.
“I have no problem with any comedian that approaches politics from a satirical perspective. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was political satire. Mark Twain lampooned politicians, as did Will Rogers. But I don’t like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh—I don’t like when people argue and get aggressive about it, left or right.”