Some who read this column know me. Most do not.
Allow me to introduce myself briefly before I begin columnizing. (Spell check tells me this is not a word, but I’m sticking to it.)
A few decades ago, before I got into TV news, I was a morning radio guy. I was supposed to be funny, or at least try to wake folks up with a smile.
For instance, I would do a fake newscast. Before you say, “They still do that now!” I’m not talking about fake news the way that term is used today.
Mine was a parody newscast, with bizarre stories ripped from the Associated Press wire, or actual stories that would end with a bad pun. I even had a fake sponsor, Ralph the Realtor (“Like Ralph always says, get a lot, while you’re young”).
My efforts at humor were mixed at best, but in all those years, I don’t recall anyone getting angry with me. I joked about the mayor, the sheriff, and whoever was president at the time.
My radio career spanned two presidents. One was a Democrat (Jimmy Carter) and the other was a Republican (Ronald Reagan).
I used a “bit” that late night TV hosts still employ today. I would take audio of a presidential speech, and take the president’s words out of context. No harm intended, and no one took it seriously. I would pretend to ask the president a question, and use his own words as the answer. For example, “Mr. President, what will you do if you lose the election?” His response: “Stop talking, and start walking.”
Despite such highbrow humor, I never won the Marconi Award, radio’s highest honor. I think mine got lost in the mail.
But my point is, I joked about Carter, and then I joked about Reagan. Listeners seemed to get it.
Although I was never on their level, the great comedians of the 20th century, like Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson were also equal opportunity offenders. The presidents and other powerful figures knew that being subjected to a few barbs came with the territory.
In my current job as a news anchor, I try to write well, read well, and be accurate. I’m not there to tell jokes, and I don’t envy those who do. These days, if you tell a Trump joke, you make half the country mad. And, if you tell a joke about a Democrat, you tick off the other half.
Frankly, the jokes are easier to write if your subject is the party in power, so President Trump is a big target. (And no, I wasn’t referring to his size. See there, someone is already offended).
If you try to make a joke about Trump’s alleged liaisons with various women, instead of laughter, the response is, “What about Biden getting all touchy-feely with the ladies?”
If you try to make a joke about Biden’s age, someone will immediately counter with, “Leave him alone! He’s only four years older than Trump!”
Either way, you get only a trickle of laughter, but an avalanche of anger.
Of course, social media plays a big role in this. Facebook and Twitter weren’t around in my radio days, so no one could post my playful needling of Carter or Reagan, and encourage all their friends to gang up and attack me.
I’ve heard many examples of our current political divide ruining relationships, both business and personal.
A friend asked me if I knew anyone who does home repair work. I enthusiastically recommended a guy. The next day, my friend said, “Know anyone else?” I said, “Why, was he too busy?” He said, “Nope. I went on his Facebook page, and I don’t like his politics.” (This is a lesson for those of you who share your political preferences: Not everyone agrees with you). Frankly, I never knew my handyman’s politics. I just liked how he fixed things.
Also recently, a friend passed away. At the funeral home, a mutual friend seemed especially sad. He said, “We last spoke on the phone about a year ago. We got into an argument over politics, and we both hung up mad. I meant to call and put that behind us, but I never did. I didn’t want it to end like this.” Is there anyone like that in your life?
Some might say that with the 24/7 news channels and social media platforms, we are better informed than in the Hope/Carson era. But instead of screaming “You support a criminal!” or “Your party wants to take my guns away!” I wish we could take a deep breath, look for common ground, and yes, even laugh again. Is that asking too much?
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.