Serious Pratfalls

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, March 15, 2014 7:51pm
  • Opinion

It happens all too often: I’m on TV, cracking wise about something that’s happening in the wild and wacky world of Washington, and the anchor just doesn’t get it. The sarcasm goes right over his or her head. It can mean one of three things: I’m not funny, the person has had a humor-gland removal, or all of the above. One program moderator — who shall remain nameless, because I need the work — said to me on the air, “I never know whether you’re making a joke or not.” In fact, usually, it’s both. This can be a grimly absurd place.

Maybe there are too many people in power who fear they’ll be exposed as foolish. Perhaps that would explain the serious debate that has erupted over President Barack Obama’s appearance with Zach Galifianakis on the farcical Internet program “Between2Ferns.” For the benefit those among us who are not truly hip, the show is a parody of interviews as they appear on public-access television. Galifianakis is the out-there slovenly host who deadpans ridiculous and embarrassing questions of his star guests. This time, the star was Barack Obama. The White House decided it would be a good, albeit risky, venue to promote health-care sign-ups to the young-skewing audience.

It was phenomenal. Galifianakis was his usual mocking self, and Mr. Obama was a total match. He was hilarious; they both were. Plus, it clearly reached the 20- and 30-somethings.

But then the fun stopped. Out rushed the politicians and commentators to sniff about how this kind of thing demeans the presidency. Well, people, I don’t know how to break it to you, but it’s kind of difficult to demean any part of our political system these days. The participants have already turned it into slapstick.

Look no further than those in our national-security apparatus, particularly the ones in charge of the nation’s spying. I think it’s safe to call them the Gang That Couldn’t Spook Straight. One can only hope they’re embarrassed as all their Maxwell Smart stealthy adventures spill into public view.

The latest is that flare-up with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein. If there was ever someone who has backed America’s intelligence efforts, it’s Sen. Feinstein. Even with Edward Snowden’s disclosures that the National Security Agency is prying into the private lives of every one of us, she has been there, backing the NSA and its higher-ups and saving her ire for Snowden. Many, and I’m among them, have criticized her for being an apologist. But now even she is attacking them. In a remarkable speech on the Senate floor, she charged that the Central Intelligence Agency had “violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.” Pretty heavy criticism, I trust you’ll agree. She’s infuriated, she says, because operatives infiltrated the computers of committee investigators who were delving into the CIA torture of prisoners taken after 9-11. In response, the agency charged that it was the Senate people who had violated restrictions against snooping into certain documents, and turned the matter over to the Justice Department.

It’s turned into a dissing contest, with a lot of “he said, she said,” but isn’t it Congress that’s lawfully supposed to provide oversight of the intelligence community and not the other way around?

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden put out a statement criticizing Feinstein for regularly being such a staunch defender of the massive electronic surveillance, and trashing her for hypocrisy: “Suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

As for the allegations his people had spied on the Senate computers, CIA Director John Brennan told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “Nothing can be farther from the truth” and “we wouldn’t do that.” Maybe, instead of Andrea, he should be interviewed by Zach Galifianakis.


Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN

More in Opinion

Opinion: Rural broadband is essential infrastructure

Broadband funding is available. The rest is up to Alaskans.

Nurse Sherra Pritchard gives Madyson Knudsen a bandage at the Kenai Public Health Center after the 10-year-old received her first COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: A mom’s and pediatrician’s perspective on COVID-19 vaccines for children

I want to see children and their parents who have yet to get vaccinated roll up their sleeves.

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

This from a state that has no property tax on homes or businesses, only on the oil industry.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.