“Weekend Update,” like much of SNL, saw itself as a show talking back to the media, as “television’s antidote to television, to all the bad things–corrupt, artificial, plastic, facile–that TV entertainment had become.”3 The show sought this influence in a period of heavily publicized official corruption: it’s not a coincidence that the segment, which Chevy Chase hosted on SNL’s first show, debuted on the heels of Nixon’s resignation over Watergate and Johnson’s lies about Vietnam. These abuses of power led not only to widespread disappointment with Washington politics and politicians, but to a kind of skepticism about journalism and questions about its capacity to check political power. Hellman’s observation above reads as a pretty good paraphrase of the frustration expressed about the Bush administration by people from across the political spectrum during the post-9/11 years. What’s most surprising is that he was writing in 1981. The underlying question, then and now, was fundamental one about democratic practice and the press: how was it that the “fourth estate” had failed to expose the lies and corruption of another presidential administration?

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Copyright © 2009 FlowTV.org. This article first appeared in FlowTV.org (2009),1-4.

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