It’s not often senators and comedians go head to head in public debates, but things are changing. After late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel delivered a stinging rant about the Republican-designed health care bill, Senator Bill Cassidy went on a morning news show to fire back.
During his monologue, Kimmel dropped names, particularly Cassidy’s, because the senator had been on Kimmel’s show to talk about the bill before. Kimmel said: “Last night… I took a senator from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy, to task for promising to my face he would oppose any health care plan that allowed insurance companies to turn people with pre-existing conditions away… He proposed a bill that would allow states to do all the things he said he would not let them do…”
Cassidy responded on Fox and Friends the next morning: “I was on (Kimmel’s) show about a year ago, and everything I said was true… There’s a tension, how do you pay for it without breaking the bank, and how do you take care of those providing insurance? Our bill does that…”
Cassidy followed that defense of the bill up with a direct challenge to Kimmel. “He has only heard from those on the left who are doing their best to preserve Obamacare… He has not heard from me. We’ve not spoken. I would love to talk to him about this.”
In this response, Cassidy openly admits the growing influence late night comedy and variety shows have on shaping and bolstering attitudes in American popular culture, especially where politics are concerned.
For years now, the political right has turned to talk radio to get perspectives that reinforced its views. For some time now, for the political left, that place has been filled by late night comedy programs. Beginning with Bill Maher, the torch was taken up by John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Since the recent healthcare debate, Kimmel has joined the conversation.
For folks who don’t want politics with their comedy or entertainment, the seemingly constant stream of “everything political” has long since become wearying. But for many who live and breathe these debates, the influx of politics in every aspect of popular culture is exciting and compelling.
The question for entertainers – and for the brands that support them – is clear: how much is too much? At what point does appeasing one group infringe on the other? And, where is the delineation between speaking your mind and crossing the line?
There doesn’t appear to be an easy answer for that, especially since that line seems to keep moving. Some personalities can speak out, and it only helps their cause. For others, one tweet is a career death knell. In many cases, it’s tough to know ahead of time what will earn which result.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.