Brow Beat

Saturday Night Live Takes on Fox News’ Racist Fearmongering With a Cold Open That Is Too Kind by Far

Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong dressed as Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro.
Just two reporters feeling very concerned about a legitimate news story that is definitely not a transparent appeal to racism.

There’s only one thing happening between now and Tuesday, and it’s the Republican party’s disgraceful racist fearmongering in hopes of staving off electoral disaster. Naturally, Saturday Night Live addressed the topic in this week’s cold open, and the result was both funnier and more accurate because it didn’t feature Donald Trump. Whether Alec Baldwin’s absence was previously-planned or the result of recent events in his own life, Kate McKinnon took the lead, and the sketch focused on Fox News’ role in pumping garbage into people’s minds, instead of the bonehead in the White House. That’s good, because if Donald Trump somehow disappeared in a puff of racism tomorrow, the entire infrastructure that made his presidency possible would still be chugging right along. Like so:

Fox News is pretty grating even in a SNL-ified form, but Cecily Strong’s spot-on Jeanine Pirro impression is a delight, and Keenan Thompson is a delight no matter what he’s doing—in this case, a very Kenan Thompson-y Sheriff David Clarke. But although Kate McKinnon picks up some of Laura Ingraham’s tics, she is nowhere near unpleasant or smug enough. Here’s a taste of the genuine article, if you can take it:

That perpetual sneer! McKinnon comes closest to nailing it in the moment when she crosses her arms, leans back in her chair, and shakes her head in rage at the perfidy of Brad Pitt—but Ingraham can somehow project that kind of contempt 24x7. If you didn’t make it to the end, you missed her best line:

Of this, my friends, you can be sure: Your views on immigration will have zero impact and zero influence on a House dominated by Democrats who want to replace you, the American voters, with newly-amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.

Yes, that’s Laura Ingraham claiming that Democrats want to “replace” Americans with immigrants, a year after Charlottesville and a few weeks before Pittsburgh. Ingraham has also done more than her share to spread conspiracy theories about George Soros—see, e.g., “Far-Left Billionaires Soros, Steyer Uniting to Remake America,” which features his headshot superimposed on stacks of $100 bills—so the missing ingredient in McKinnon’s impression might be the blood on Ingraham’s hands. Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pirro comes closer to reality, but is still much too kind. Here’s the Saturday Night Live version of fearmongering about the people in the migrant caravan:

Everyone you’ve ever seen in your nightmares, Laura. It’s got Guatamalans, Mexicans, ISIS, the Menendez brothers, the 1990 Detroit Pistons, Thanos, and several Babadooks.

That’s funny! Now here’s how the passage that seems to be parodying, when the actual Jeanine Pirro addressed the same topic:

Now I’m not saying they’re all criminals. What I am asking is, who are they? What I am saying is, I want to vet them. Screen them. I want to find out who among them is a criminal. Who among them is a gang member, like the notorious MS-13 gang members who arrogantly rode into our United States by invitation during the Obama years and are now in New York and elsewhere, brutally and savagely murdering innocent American citizens. I want to know, who is a pedophile? Who is a sex offender? Who thinks they’re entitled to beat their wives? I want to know who has an alcohol problem, who has a drug problem, who likes to drive drunk, and who has no problem hauling drugs for the cartel. 

It’s just a long string of rhetorical questions that boil down to “When did asylum seekers stop beating their wives?” including one that is literally “When did asylum seekers stop beating their wives?” It isn’t any better on tape:

Jeanine Pirro’s delivery and affect are begging for an impressionist, and Strong should consider playing her in a sketch, series of sketches, or feature-length film about a more naturally hilarious topic, like Robert Durst. But the virulent hatred Fox serves up is difficult to make a joke about: it’s so over-the-top and vile that any comedic exaggeration ends up accidentally being an improvement. If Fox News started routinely claiming that the country was about to be overrun by Babadooks, we’d all welcome it as a return to sanity. After all, when’s the last time you heard about a right-wing terrorist murdering a room full of Babadooks?