Late Night Hosts Respond To Orlando Tragedy With Heartfelt Monologues

Jun 14, 2016
Originally published on June 16, 2016 7:10 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We are all trying to understand how the mass shooting in Orlando could've happened. Around the world people are holding vigils. Flags are at half staff. Years ago we might have looked to news anchors to help us understand. Today NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans says that role is being played by late-night talk show hosts.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: As the country sorts through yet another mass shooting, a new media tradition has emerged alongside the rituals of grieving and political fighting that so often follow such tragedy - the somber late-night monologue.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

SETH MEYERS: I'm Seth Meyers. This is "Late Night." And usually right now in the show we would start with our monologue. We would tell you jokes about today's news.

DEGGANS: That of course was the host of NBC's "Late Night" program. Seth Meyers offered a mostly serious talk on the shootings last night and called out Donald Trump who tweeted, quote, "appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

MEYERS: I don't know who's been congratulating Donald Trump, but you may want to redirect your congratulations to the first responders or those waiting in line to give blood. They're the ones who deserve congrats, and they're not asking for it.

DEGGANS: In an odd way, these speeches had developed their own rituals as hosts feel compelled to weigh in on news that isn't so funny. Often the shows don't begin with their traditional opening, avoiding applause to focus on the serious message. On TBS, for example, Conan O'Brien got right to his point.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CONAN")

CONAN O'BRIEN: And I simply do not understand why anybody in this country is allowed to purchase and own a semi-automatic assault rifle. It makes no sense to me.

(APPLAUSE)

DEGGANS: That call for gun control measures was also picked up by O'Brien's colleague on TBS Samantha Bee. On her news show, "Full Frontal," the former "Daily Show" correspondent first channeled the kind of profanity-filled rage her ex-boss Jon Stewart was famous for.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")

SAMANTHA BEE: After a massacre, the standard operating procedure is that you stand on stage and deliver some well-meaning words about how we will get through this together. That is beautiful, but you know what? [Expletive], I am too angry for that.

DEGGANS: Then she lambasted Florida Governor Rick Scott for bolting from a press conference when asked a question about government policies which might've led to a discussion on gun control.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")

BEE: Oh, oh, oh, what, OK, bye-bye - later, Skater. Don't let you door hit you where the good Lord split you. Seriously - that guy bolted so fast I'm surprised every wall in the Florida State House doesn't have a Rick Scott shaped hole in it.

DEGGANS: This issue even came up on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" where he debated Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly. O'reilly's words against gun control were so unpopular with the audience the host had to intervene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

BILL O'REILLY: It's my job as a news analyst to find a solution to the problem. And the solution is not some kind of federal gun control at a level of taking...

STEPHEN COLBERT: Listen to what he has to say, please.

DEGGANS: After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Colbert's predecessor David Letterman brought on traditional TV news anchor Dan Rather. Colbert's show last night seemed to offer a different exchange that sums up the shape of our more combative media culture.

Once upon a time, TV news anchors handled these moments. When Walter Cronkite teared up with CBS while announcing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he channeled the emotion of a traumatized nation. Now it seems that duty has fallen to late-night talk show hosts who deliver passionate opinions, facts and a few jokes to help audiences process the pain. It's an awful ritual which says more about the melding of news and entertainment than anything else in media right now. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.