Read on esquire.com
Jimmy Fallon is not a journalist. He doesn’t pretend to be. He refuses to compete in the same hybrid entertainment/journalism space as John Oliver, Trevor Noah, or Stephen Colbert. Fallon admitted as much last year in an in-depth Esquire profile: “That’s the way Colbert will succeed—by being him,” Fallon said. “He’s him, I’m me. Don’t even compare us—to anybody.”
Nevertheless, Jimmy Fallon is a taxpaying American citizen with the largest audience in late-night—his show averages 3.6 million viewers. Furthermore, Fallon has 42 million Twitter followers.The Tonight Show’s Facebook page has over 10 million Facebook fans, his own personal page has over a million, and he’s closing in on 12 million YouTube subscribers.
Jimmy Fallon is not a journalist, but Jimmy Fallon is a taxpaying American citizen with a minimal obligation to help keep a tyrant from reaching the most powerful position in the world. He failed that obligation last night. When you go to The Tonight Show‘s YouTube channel this morning, you’ll find five truncated clips of Donald Trump in a red power tie sitting across from a giggling, jovial Fallon.
“Have you ever played the board game Sorry?” Fallon asked.
“I sort of like Monopoly better than Sorry,” Trump said.
That exchange is indicative of the entire interview. Instead of challenging Trump, Fallon humanized him, whipping out photos of Trump’s relatively modest childhood home in Queens and noting that Trump was becoming “wistful.” They talked about Trump’s love of fast food, and why he avoids frequenting non-chain restaurants: “I don’t know what they’re going to do to that hamburger, if they like me, I’m happy if they don’t like me…”
They discussed the upcoming presidential debates. Trump continued perpetuating his “rigged election” propaganda, dismissing the journalistic integrity of NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. “I think Lester is going to be very hard on me,” Trump said. Fallon did not stand up for his NBC colleague; he stared nervously into the middle distance. Trump also doubled down on his praise of another NBC star, Matt Lauer, whose performance at the recent presidential forum was roundly criticized for—like Fallon last night—letting Trump get away with bullshit.
“I thought Matt Lauer did a fantastic job,” Trump said. “We love Matt Lauer,” Fallon interjected. “We’re a fan of Matt Lauer here, too.”
Then, before it was all over, Jimmy Fallon messed up Trump’s hair.
This was a cheap ratings ploy, nothing more, and no one is expecting Fallon to suddenly transform into a journalist after years of harmless impressions and carnival games. But it is patently wrong of NBC producers to humanize a racist demagogue weeks before the election. It was wrong to book him on this show at this point in time. If and when Trump loses the first debate, he’ll be able to point back to this Tonight Show appearance and say, “I knew Lester was going to be unfair to me, and his NBC colleague, Jimmy Fallon, didn’t even disagree!” NBC has screwed itself.
No, Jimmy Fallon is not a journalist, but, given his massive audience and influence, he has a responsibility as an American during a pivotal time in his country’s history. Would he tussle the hair of David Duke or any other of Trump’s white supremacist supporters?
And if you need any further evidence that at least some of Fallon’s Tonight Show/NBC colleagues are ashamed of what happened last night, look no further than Questlove’s Twitter feed: Radio silence on the issue.