New York, NY
On February 15, 2019, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border after failing to receive full congressional funding for his proposed border wall. The next day, sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), on NBC, aired a skit lampooning his announcement. Trump lashed out against the show in a series of angry tweets, decrying satirical SNL skits about him as “hit jobs” and calling for “retribution.” Media figures, politicians, and civil liberties groups criticized Trump’s comments as a threat to the First Amendment.
Since taking office in January 2017, President Trump has routinely attacked his critics, focusing his assaults on the press and his political opponents. Twitter is the preferred outlet for his criticisms.
Saturday Night Live is a comedy variety show that airs weekly on NBC. Launched in 1975, it has acquired a strong foothold in American pop culture for its acclaimed sketches and topical satire.
Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency along the southern border followed on congressional passage of a $328 billion spending bill the day before to fund the government through September 2019, according to Politico. Because it included only a fraction of the money Trump had requested for his border wall, he sought to procure the funds through other means, prompting his decision to declare a national emergency, the Washington Post reported.
In the February 16 skit, SNL mocked the bizarre and winding path Trump had taken to reach that point. Actor Alec Baldwin caricatured the president, as he had in 35 SNL sketches since the start of the 2016 election cycle, according to the SNL website.
Trump bashed the skit at 4:52a.m. the next morning, tweeting “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!”
According to a New York Times report, SNL has actually satirized Trump for decades, airing its first skit about him in 1988. SNL poked fun at Trump’s lavish lifestyle, his media persona, and his flirtation with politics. But tensions between Trump and the show spiked when the former real estate mogul launched his presidential bid in 2015. Trump first attacked the show on Twitter in October 2016, when it mocked his temper and his manner in a skit about the second presidential debate of the campaign. In that instance, he also called the SNL skit a “hit job,” and he has routinely criticized SNL since then.
Trump’s comment sparks backlash
Trump’s most recent attack on SNL drew criticism from pundits and civil libertarians, who understood the tweet to be another presidential assault on Free Speech and the First Amendment.
In response to Trump’s tweet, Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell wrote, “A national leader threatening ‘retribution’ against those who practice political satire. What would you say if you saw this in any other country?”
In a brief Twitter statement, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote, “It’s called the First Amendment.”
Drafted by James Moore-Carrillo ’22
Uploaded to Tracker March 11, 2019