Did Barack Obama Get the SNL Endorsement?

by Rick Rockwell

Saturday Night Live may have opened the door to a fight over equal airtime for politicians.

In case you missed it last week, Sen. Barack Obama introduced Saturday Night Live (SNL) in the midst of a skit skewering all of the Democratic presidential candidates, except, of course, himself (please check below for the video).

The New York Times reported that Obama and his staff were allowed to edit and change the SNL script. And Obama’s campaign staff posted the video on Obama’s website and on YouTube.

The skit proved to be a withering send-up of Sen. Hillary Clinton, her marriage and how she’s viewed by the Democratic field. At the end, Obama looked calm, cool, and above the fray.

If that isn’t an endorsement from SNL and from NBC, the network that airs the comedy show, what is?

Surprisingly, after the program, the Democratic field was mute about the issue of Obama getting an unfair advantage. Hillary Clinton’s camp may be holding back, because the Senator from New York had been scheduled to make an appearance on SNL earlier in the fall, but had to postpone due to a scheduling conflict. So Clinton may already have a guarantee that she’ll be allowed to respond in kind.

But what about the other candidates?

Unlike cable’s Daily Show or Colbert Report, SNL broadcasts on over-the-air television where the rules are clear: they’ve been part of broadcast law since before there was television. The law says each candidate must have equal time. Obama was on the air as part of the anti-Clinton skit for about one minute and ten seconds.

Does this mean we are about to endure a host of mini-skits where the line of Democratic challengers will be seeking equal time? Or couldn’t they also wisely ask the network for their equal time in the one minute between local news and SNL’s beginning. The law says they must be afforded the opportunity to the same audience, which means approximately one minute at 11:30 p.m. EST on a Saturday.

If you think this can’t happen, then you’ve never heard or seen Lyndon LaRouche on the air. LaRouche, once a perennial fringe candidate for president, often commandeered the airwaves, because he held broadcasters accountable to the equal time law.

But wait. Some lawyers are debating whether all the Democrats can actually be considered candidates because they all haven’t registered in all the primaries, yet.

Likely, many of these candidates are already speaking to NBC behind-the-scenes about how they can get their minute of national airtime. But NBC has not revealed what type of headache SNL has caused for the network’s attorneys by giving the Senator from Illinois a special moment in the limelight.

As for Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of SNL, he has supported several candidates. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) received Michaels’ biggest campaign contribution, $4,600. Michaels also gave $2,300 to the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). (Meghan McCain, the Senator’s daughter served as an intern on SNL.) A spokesperson for NBC characterized Michaels as “an equal opportunity offender” whose satirical program has shown all the candidates in less than a flattering light.

But SNL gave an intangible boost to Obama, like no other candidate. Even if SNL is no longer regarded as cool or cutting edge, its unlikely any other candidate will be able to recreate the political and cultural buzz that Obama created through his surprise television appearance.

For other posts related to Sen. Obama's presidential campaign, please see:

(Political graphic from StrangePolitics.com, a website that offers copyright-free political material. To see Sen. Obama's appearance on Saturday Night Live, please check below.)

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Anonymous said...

I can think of endless possibilities for SNL sketches with Dennis Kucinich

Rick Rockwell said...

Ah yes, I still think of him as the Boy Mayor of Cleveland. It seems Rep. Kucinich's life has been one long SNL skit and now of course there's the UFO to add in there.

But strangely, I was listening to Democracy Now recently and Kucinich was on the program sounding cogent and wise. Maybe he was channeling that day.

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