New York Times Attacks Gutfeld For Promoting 'Nihilism,' Fox For Threaning Democracy

June 27th, 2023 4:45 PM

With the network comedians on strike, Fox’s Greg Gutfeld is currently the sole late night comic on air and that led the New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer and Jeremy Peters to pen a nearly 4,000-word profile of Gutfeld where he was smeared as a nihilist working for a network that is a threat to democracy.

Gutfeld did allow himself to be interviewed for the piece and starts out by explaining that he uses an ironic sense of humor around what he calls “recreational beliefs” to stir conversation.

Flegenheimer and Peters are not convinced that ironic—or non-literal— humor is what Fox needs at the moment, “Questions of intention and audience fluency — of what viewers are meant to understand about what is uttered on Fox’s air — have shadowed the network’s volatile and damaging recent history, suffusing its gargantuan Dominion settlement over bogus election fraud claims and the attendant departure of Tucker Carlson, its most popular anchor.”

This ironic sense of humor is what propelled Stephen Colbert from Comedy Central to CBS’s The Late Show, made Jon Stewart a household name, and what makes The Onion (and The Babylon Bee) so popular, but double standards between liberal comedians and Gutfeld would be a constant theme of the article, “Yet as Fox plots its next chapter, executives have placed their non-recreational belief in Mr. Gutfeld, elevating his merry trolling and just-kidding-not-really-but-maybe bearing as an institutional voice for the next generation of viewers.”

Flegenheimer and Peters write that, “Though far less dissected than Emmy-nominated counterparts like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, Mr. Gutfeld reliably outrates their Trump-dinging monologues and celebrity-guest banter with scatological digressions, cameos from a low-rent presidential impersonator and a booking roster that can count Larry Kudlow as the get of the night.”

Maybe Flegenheimer and Peters should look at liberal comedy more closely, because if they are going to accuse Gutfeld of inappropriate Freudian humor (their piece starts out with Gutfeld telling jokes about statutory rape committed by teachers) then they would see the liberal comedians do the same thing. Samantha Bee was notorious for it, and the current network comedians aren’t exactly immune from it either.

Additionaly, the network hosts don’t just “ding” Trump, they relentlessly attack him—Stephen Colbert won’t even say his name—and other Republicans and not just on policy or gaffes, but personally and have no qualms about calling people racists or Nazis.

Ultimately, Gutfeld’s success poses a challenge for the thesis that conservatives aren’t very good at comedy, as Flegenheimer and Peters write, “After decades of cultural dominance by left-leaning late night — whose hosts ridiculed George W. Bush, riffed with Barack Obama and recoiled at Donald J. Trump — Mr. Gutfeld’s striking inversion is a hard-won victory for the right.”

The authors eventually quote former Red Eye guest Amy Schumer who lamented that Gutfeld “just happens to be a part of this corporation that has utilized social media to end democracy.”

The duo also claim that, “At a minimum, Mr. Gutfeld has positioned himself as perhaps the fullest realization of what today’s Fox is and what tomorrow’s might be, fusing a roguish contrarianism and an instinct for self-promotion with a political media ecosystem constructed to reward both.”

More specifically, they assert that Gutfeld shares a similar sense of humor to Trump, “What Mr. Gutfeld did, in part, was capitalize on a defining talent that he and the former president share: a kind of insult conservatism that can frame any serious argument as a joke and any joke as a serious argument, leaving viewers to suss out the distinction.”

To boost the conservatives-are-bad-at-comedy thesis, Flegenheimer and Peters quote Prof. Nick Marx, who co-wrote a book entitled That’s Not Funny, “a book about right-leaning comedy. He suggested that Mr. Gutfeld’s shtick was the troubling culmination of Fox’s commingling of news and entertainment.”

Marx declared that, “There’s sort of a nihilism at the core of that.” Far from being nihilistic, that is also simply how political comedy works. The joke is just another way of making an argument, but it relies on the audience being smart enough to separate the ironic from the unironic.

Eventually the piece concludes by circling back to the tone of Gutfeld’s jokes, “‘“It seems more mean than joking,” said Amanda Carpenter, a ‘Red Eye’ guest and former Republican congressional aide, lamenting Mr. Gutfeld’s tone now. ‘Owning the libs is the fun.’”

Owning the cons is most of what Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers do when they’re not on strike. Kimmel is an insult comic, Colbert will use irony and crass humor, and Meyers with his “Closer Looks” is basically an MSNBC host with more eccentric metaphors. Yet, somehow, that trio never gets New York Times profiles lamenting the state of liberal comedy.