The day after Jay Leno signed off on 22 years of hosting The Tonight Show, suspicions still abound as to why he was canned despite still being on top of the ratings. Could the fact that Leno was the first mainstream comedian to criticize Obama on sensitive issues such as Benghazi-gate have contributed to him being ejected by NBC?
Whereas virtually every late night comic has made superficial sideswipes at Obama in recent years, Leno took the unusual step of taking a conservative talking point, Benghazi-gate, and incorporating it into his Tonight Show monologue on two separate occasions.
The first example occurred back in October 2012, when Leno quipped, “Don’t ask – don’t tell” is back. Not the gays in the military. It’s President Obama’s new policy for questioning about Libya. Don’t ask – don’t tell. That’s the big story. The Republicans are accusing the White House of successfully engineering a massive cover-up of the Libyan attack. But on the plus side, it’s the first time in four years the Republicans have credit to Obama for doing anything successful.”
Leno returned to the subject two months later in December 2012, when he discussed a CBS News journalist becoming the first reporter, besides one from Fox News, to ask Obama who changed the talking points on Benghazi. Leno “joked” that should a journalist “suddenly start asking real questions,” this would be “very dangerous to the White House.”
It’s widely acknowledged that, unlike several other mainstream talk show hosts, Leno writes his own jokes. Four months after his second Benghazi-gate monologue, it was announced that Leno was being replaced by Jimmy Fallon.
In recent months, Leno has repeatedly ripped on Obama for the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, stating back in November that, “Obama’s better off smoking crack than passing Obamacare.”
Last August, radio host Michael Savage played a montage of anti-Obama jokes told by Leno which included criticism of the administration being embroiled in numerous scandals including the AP wiretapping controversy, NSA spying, as well as Leno’s call to “close down the IRS.”
The relentless number of stinging anti-Obama jokes told by Leno both before and after the decision to replace him on the Tonight Show was announced obviously go above and beyond anything we’ve heard from the likes of Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon or David Letterman.
Whether Leno was overcompensating in response to criticism that he had asked Obama softball questions when the president appeared on his show in 2011, or if he was genuinely using the huge platform of the Tonight Show to vent his disgust with the administration, it seems clear that the talk show host’s material became more hardcore anti-Obama the nearer it came to his exit from NBC.
NBC’s decision to replace Leno cannot be explained by falling ratings. Leno was still on top of the pile, and his ratings more recently were through the roof. According to the New York Times, Leno’s previous indication that he would continue hosting Tonight until he keeled over fed, “the lingering suspicion that Mr. Leno remained somewhat perturbed with NBC’s latest decision to replace him.”
Leno alluded to being stabbed in the back by NBC when he told a joke about a man with a knife in his back for three years: “He must’ve worked at NBC, too,” quipped Leno.
Could part of NBC’s reasoning for replacing Leno with Jimmy Fallon be explained by pressure from above? Was Leno becoming too harsh in his condemnation of an administration and a presidency that the network has steadfastly supported?
Whether there’s a connection or not, there will be a lot less incisive and witty condemnation of the Obama White House, particularly targeted at liberal audiences, now that Leno is off the air.