Lawrence O'Donnell: Politics as Entertainment

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Back in 2008, Barack Obama was an underdog and up-and-comer who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to gain the top job in America. At least that’s the Hollywood movie pitch. Political candidacies now seem to be as much about narrative as experience, with each campaign vying to control “the story” of its candidate.

And more than ever, the news media frame the presidential race as mass entertainment. CNN produced an opening trailer for a Republican debate, in which the politicians were announced like characters in a comic book blockbuster: “the firebrand,” “the insurgent,” “the diplomat.” These framing devices are “terrible,” Lawrence O’Donnell thinks, “and made so very deliberately by the media in the effort, of course, to make [the debates] interesting, not realizing that they're failing completely.”

O’Donnell is a former senate staffer who became a writer for The West Wing, and now hosts a political show on MSNBC. Kurt spoke with him about the change in Obama’s story since 2008. “He's playing the establishment, he's playing the insider,” says O'Donnell, “He's playing the guy who doesn't understand the people anymore, according to the Romney portrayal.” Romney, on the hand, is typecast for the role of Commander-in-Chief. “When he walks into the casting for the president, every other guy in the room feels horrible,” O'Donnell tells Kurt Andersen, “He's just so perfect, in every way, including with how well-spoken he can be.” But that character has an Achilles heel: he can't tell a joke. “That's the thing I'd probably fix for him as a fictional character,” O'Donnell says. “An audience can't attach to that kind of character.”

O’Donnell is the first to cop to melding news and entertainment on his own show, the nightly The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. “I do strive to be the Andy Kaufman of TV news.”


Video: Lawrence O’Donnell vs. Taggert Romney

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