ThemTube: Sleeping With The McLaughlin Group

While the rest of us are drinking and snoozing, the television is trying to transmit important information into our homes. Today, our special correspondent for T.V. punditry catches us up on the Sunday chat shows. Because we totally wouldn't watch that shit if you paid us. Get your tinfoil hats on!

No one is more responsible for the prestige of the Sunday slot than perennial political talk powerhouse and Saturday Night Live muse John McLaughlin and his "McLaughlin Group." After 25 years in the game, he is pretty much the founding father of network political pontification. The thing is, McLaughlin is like one of those college professors who's all serious and respected and schedules their classes first thing in the morning. He and his distinguished panel are up every Sunday at the crack of dawn, in their suits, and off the air by noon. Is this because they are consummate professionals? No. It's because they are very, very, very old, and along with eating dinner at three in the afternoon and being incontinent, early rising is what old people do.

I spent the weekend alternately nursing and nurturing a massive hangover, so I missed out on McLaughlin and his geriatric gang of early rising intellectuals. I was left with the rest of the Sunday talk show crop, "Hannity's America," and Tim Russert's "Meet The Press."

Predictably, both shows spent a ton of time analyzing the recent verdict in the Scooter Libby trial, which Russert quietly noted was "A trial which, I was involved in, regrettably."

Russert is an amiable, awkward, buffoon whose huge head and asymmetrical moon face make him look like a Picasso rendition of Family Guy's Peter Griffin. His "Meet The Press" is the follow-up to McLaughlin where he struggles to seem like he's asking tough questions to an impressive roster of policy makers and media luminaries. In this episode, he asked U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, to "strip away the diplomatic speak" and did not blink when when Khalizad responded by continually characterizing the Persian Gulf as a "neighborhood."

This week Ted Koppel was on Russert's panel pimping his new special "Our Children's Children's War" and I couldn't help but notice how unimpressive his current credentials (Managing Editor, Discovery Channel) seemed to be. How the hell did this guy go from "Nightline" to sharing prime time with "Croc Hunter" reruns? I guess I must have missed his Dan Rather moment.

The "Meet The Press" panel described Bush's recent diplomatic engagement with Syria and Iran as a major change in policy in response to Americans losing patience for the war in Iraq. The discussion allowed Koppel to outline the main idea of his current project which is, that the War On Terror is a conflict that has been going on for 24 years, is happening around the world and in places we didnt even know about, and isn't likely to end any time soon. Damn. Now we see why Koppel has fallen so far off the radar. The dude's a real downer.

You don't turn to Tim Russert and "Meet The Press" for a good time. As much fun as it is to watch Russert's facial expressions as the gears grind in his head each week, "Meet The Press" is largely a solemn affair, an appropriately stodgy follow-up to "The McLaughlin Group." If you want more fast-paced Sunday talk fare you have to wait for the evening to spend some time in the special place on Fox News called "Hannity's America."

Sean Hannity's America is a nation that rocks. You know this because he always begins the show with an intensely patriotic country song. On "Hannity's America" this week, that was followed with Sean's analysis of something far more pressing than "Meet The Press'" depressing War On Terror coverage, truly hateful media whore and frequent Hannity guest Ann Coulter is out being truly hateful yet again.

Hannity predictably feels his fellow talking head is being unfairly criticized. He alleges that the "liberal media" ignores controversial comments made by left-wingers while persecuting conservatives like he and Coulter. To prove this point he presented a top ten list of "liberal hate speech" history lessons for members of the "mainstream press."

I have always wondered how Fox gets away with touting their ratings success at the same time that the majority of their on-air talent relies on the perception that they're doing some sort of pirate radio broadcast. That point aside, Hannity's highlight reel did have some funny footage of Alec Baldwin screaming about stoning someone to death, as well as crazy with Joe Biden and Robert Byrd. Perceived left wing hypocrisy continued to be a major theme on "Hannity's America" throughout "2 on 2," Sean's blatantly partisan spin on the standard Sunday talk show roundtable, but it was a lot less interesting without the funny YouTube clips (even though it had it's moments, such as when Hannity described Roger Clinton as a "prominent democrat").

The show continued with features on child Palestinian suicide bombers and a theme park where Mexicans pay to cross a fake version of the U.S. border. At first I wondered why these segments, which were filmed in foreign countries, were on a show titled "Hannity's America," but than I realized that they kind of made me scared of minorities, and nothing is more American than that.

Hannity's unique apple-pie-and-ice-cream brand of xenophobia was further evident "Enemy Of The Week," which marked the President's visit to Latin America by contrasting Hugo Chavez's "repression" with George W. Bush's "agenda of peace and prosperity."

Hannity closed out his weekly romp through this great nation of ours with a bizarre man on the street segment where he interviewed couples in Times Square about their sex lives. In one final, attention-starved "only in America" moment, a man proposed to his girlfriend with Hannity and his cameras standing by—leaving Hannity to close the hour of war-mongering, stereotyping, and partisan politics with the absurd line: "bringing people together."