Barack Obama got it hardest from late-night talk show hosts in 2011. According to a study published by George Mason University's Center for Media and Public Affairs, the president was the No. 1 target of the three leading late-night comics—Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon—in politically-themed segments and opening monologues, accounting for a grand total of 342 jokes made at Obama's expense.
A similar study was conducted by the CMPA in 2010, which found that, between January 2 and Labor Day, "President Barack Obama [topped] the joke tally with 309, over twice as many as the two prominent Republican politicians who follow him—Sarah Palin with 137 jokes and George W. Bush with 132."
Just for a frame of reference, the runner-up for the title of 2011's top writers-room victim was former congressman Anthony Weiner, who found himself on the butt end of 220 jokes. (To be fair, though, it's not like Weinergate was in the news for all of 2011.) Also, Obama took the Tonight Show-Late Show-Late Night guff more often than Moammar Qaddafi, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney combined (121, 110, and 79, respectively). Here are the top 20:
It's not all bad news for the president: The study does show that the talk show hosts took swipes at Republicans nearly three times as often as they lampooned Democrats. Furthermore, Obama's tally is well below that of presidents Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, both of whom maintained yearly averages of 500+ talk show swipes while in office.
So really, numbers like this are to be expected. The president is clearly the most visible of any of the figures on the list, and it's generally easier to deliver stand-up on American politicos than it is to make light of headlines regarding mass murderers like Qaddafi or Bin Laden. (As the Center noted, "[t]he President of the United States usually leads the list of joke targets by virtue of making news so often.") But will these numbers help to debunk the silly notion on the right that the media and entertainment world is in the business of "protecting" Barack Obama?
Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter. Email tips, insights, and anger to asuebsaeng [at] motherjones [dot] com. RSS | Twitter