USA Politics

How SNL parodied Trump's press conference

Saturday Night Live's cold open sketch, starring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, touched on a number of contentious issues surrounding the president-elect's transition. 

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 11, 2017.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters | Caption

Obamacare? Steve Harvey? That infamous unverified dossier containing allegations of illicit activities in a Russian hotel room? Check, check, and check. 

Saturday Night Live took aim at Donald Trump once again this week with a cold open sketch parodying the president-elect's press conference last Wednesday, starring, once again, Alec Baldwin as Mr. Trump. The eight-minute sketch touched on a number of recent points of controversy, ranging from Ben Carson's HUD appointment to the perceived lack of celebrities at the upcoming inauguration to the president-elect's business-related conflicts of interest.

Underlying it all were implications about Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin – played by cast member Beck Bennett – who appeared at the end of the sketch, shirtless and holding a cassette labeled "pee pee tape," to question Trump's admission that Russia likely hacked Democrats during the election.

In one moment recreated from the actual press conference, Baldwin's Trump refuses to take questions from CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta. ("You're fake news," SNL Trump says. "I tried to watch your network last night, and there was just some crazy blond woman spouting lies." Mr. Acosta, played by Bobby Moynihan, responds: "That was Kellyanne Conway.") 

While Trump's real-life accusation about CNN trafficking in "fake news" made for comedic fodder, it also added to mounting concerns about the president-elect's relationship with the media. 

"I think that, in terms of communications, we’re going to have to throw all preconceived notions, norms, and protocols out the window when considering Trump," Brian Rosenwald, a political historian and media expert at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Christian Science Monitor last week after the press conference. "He has a vastly different vision for how to communicate than his predecessors, and has shown no indication that he seems constrained by standard operating procedures." 

Trump's unconventional approach to media relations may result in satirists at Saturday Night Live and elsewhere taking on an increasingly important role over the next four years, as Story Hinckley reported for the Monitor last month: 

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, [John] Oliver and other comedians like Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, and Samantha Bee offered respite to millions of Americans from an especially fraught political season.

President-elect Trump, however, doesn’t seem to be a fan of political satire. He recently tweeted that Alec Baldwin’s bombastic, puffy-lipped impersonation of him on "Saturday Night Live" was “unwatchable,” and that Vanity Fair’s editor has “no talent” after the magazine published a comedic review of Trump Grill calling the restaurant – and its owner – “a cheap version of rich.”

Political satire will undoubtedly become more colorful during the Trump administration, but it may also prove more valuable. Satire has reaffirmed freedom of speech in US history before and it may do so again, given Trump’s tendency to flout traditional media norms. He has threatened to “open up” libel laws during his campaign, criticized leading publications for publishing content he disagrees with, and before Wednesday's surprise Q&A with reporters, hadn't held a press conference since July.

"Historically, satire is always at its most valuable when freedom of press is constrained.... Satire is a way of challenging power when the legitimate ways of challenging power are closed off," Geoffrey Baym, chairman of Temple University’s media and communications department, told the Monitor, citing satirists in czarist Russia as an example. "Great moments of satire come in opposition to some sense of totalizing control."