On July 7, former tennis champion John McEnroe will debut on CNBC in a "primetime talker" called McEnroe, about which a July 4 New York Times headline asked, "Surely He Cannot Be Humorous?" On the day of McEnroe's premiere, Media Matters for America poses the same question about another of the cable network's hosts: Dennis Miller, producer and host of CNBC's Dennis Miller.
The New York Times called McEnroe (who wore a John Kerry pin one day on the set) "a liberal counterweight to the more conservative Mr. Miller." Indeed, Miller has made no secret of where his political sympathies lie. In an article published on January 26 -- the day Dennis Miller debuted on CNBC -- Miller said of President George W. Bush, "I like him. I'm going to give him a pass. I take care of my friends." In his five months on the air, Miller has done exactly that, an allegiance that has reportedly earned him "a ride on Air Force One and a lift in the President's limo."
While Miller has displayed some signs of libertarianism ("If two gay guys want to get married, it's none of my business."), he also appears to be in sync with the Bush administration's view of preemptive military force ("But if some idiot foreign terrorist wants to blow up their wedding to make a political statement, I would rather kill him before he can do it, or have my country kill him before he can do it."). Miller has pointed to the September 11 terrorist attacks as a pivotal moment in his conservative political shift: "I'm shocked it didn't change everybody as much as it changed me."
Miller's change has not come without some controversy, however. The national media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) characterized the show's hiring of consulting producer Mike Murphy -- "a well-known Republican campaign consultant whose past clients have included [Senator] John McCain [R-AZ], [Governor] Jeb Bush [R-FL]," and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) -- as a conflict of interest, since Murphy was working as an adviser to Governor Schwarzenegger at the time. (The Contra Costa Times called Murphy the "chief campaign strategist" for Schwarzenegger.) Who appeared as guests on the first episode of Dennis Miller? McCain and Schwarzenegger.
Miller -- a five-time Emmy Award winner, best-selling author, and former host of "Weekend Update" on NBC's Saturday Night Live -- was even considered by GOP strategists as a possible challenger to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
Yet, while there can be little doubt about Miller's politics, one question remains: Is Dennis Miller funny?
Media Matters for America has monitored June episodes of Dennis Miller, focusing in particular on the opening "Daily Rorschach" segment. According to the show's website, "Daily Rorschach" "highlights current events" in "a high-speed blitz of monologue jokes, news photos and videotape clips." Following are Media Matters for America's findings, organized by topic.
Dennis Miller on Abu Ghraib:
MILLER: Critics of the president's speech have pointed out that he repeatedly mispronounced the name "Abu Ghraib prison." Hey, I'll worry about how the president says "Abu Ghraib" when someone in the Arab world learns to pronounce the word "democracy," OK? [6/4/04]
MILLER: And President Bush fell off his bicycle over the weekend at his Texas ranch. He wasn't seriously hurt, but he was somewhat humiliated when Private Lynndie England [Miller displayed Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photo] appeared from behind a shrub, pointed at him, and began laughing. [6/4/04]
MILLER: I'm sorry, those pictures from the Abu Ghraib. At first they, like, infuriated me, I was sad. Then like, a couple days later, after they cut the guy's [American civilian Nick Berg] head off, they didn't seem like much. And now, I like to trade them with friends. [6/8/04]
MILLER: Forbes magazine has named Mel Gibson this year's most powerful celebrity. ... Forbes' least powerful celebrity? [Miller displayed the widely circulated image of a hooded Iraqi prisoner with wires attached to his outstretched arms] You're looking at him. Screw this guy. ... [He's a] bad guy. [6/22/04]
Dennis Miller on gays:
MILLER: The new gay network ... will be similar to MTV, except that instead of a show called Jackass, on the new network it'll be called Jack's Ass. Alright, John's Ass. [6/3/04]
MILLER: [T]he man who accused Richard Simmons of slapping him in an airport has dropped the assault charge. Dropped it! Upon hearing the news, Simmons sadly responded, "You mean I'm not going to prison?" [6/3/04]
MILLER: The state of Texas is threatening to sue unauthorized uses of its federally registered "Don't Mess With Texas" slogan. Massachusetts plans on doing the same thing to protect its new state slogan, "Queer it on up!" [6/8/04]
MILLER: And a Japanese company has unveiled a new computer-controlled toilet that actually senses when you approach it and pulls the lid up. Wow. Too much info. Now, here's a special version of the toilet that's been customized for Richard Simmons [Miller played a video clip of a plastic bidet rod emerging from a toilet]. I'm sorry, you know, every time I go to do a joke like that about him and I think it's too rough, I think of him in those little striped shirts and I say, "No, he's begging for it." [6/28/04]
MILLER: The Japanese have invented a new device that they say can help you choose what you dream about. Hmmm... [Miller played a video clip of a dream sequence featuring scantily clad male dancers] Sorry, Japan, I don't need any help. If I'm so gay, how did I ever procreate and have [Miller's fictitious son] Dak? ... Calm, Dennis, calm yourself down... [Miller played a video clip of the same dream sequence] ... Hey, because I've done that joke twice, I'm not gay, am I? [6/29/04]
Dennis Miller on former President Bill Clinton:
MILLER: And, to celebrate the June twenty-second release of his new book, Bill Clinton will hold a book party for a thousand guests at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Clinton picked the location because he said he's always wanted to get head beneath a Renoir. [6/2/04]
MILLER: Industry analysts say that Bill Clinton's new book may outsell all others of its kind. While it's being described as a real page-turner, take your time folks, pretty sure a couple of those pages might be stuck together. [6/8/04]
MILLER: Portraits of Bill and Hillary Clinton were unveiled at the White House on Monday. ... Officials say the painting of Hillary took several months to complete, while, as usual, the president's portrait was finished after just a few quick strokes. [6/15/04]
MILLER: In a 60 Minutes interview with Dan Rather, former President Bill Clinton said his family dealt with the Monica Lewinsky affair through hours and hours of counseling. He then added that as part of his counseling, he would need 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl to just touch his penis a little -- just a little. [6/18/04]
Dennis Miller on justice:
MILLER: Teresa Lewis, the only woman on death row in Virginia, says she doesn't deserve the death penalty because she only hired the killers of her husband and stepson, she didn't actually pull the trigger herself. You know, she has a point. I think we should let her be able to hire the person who executes her, and not do yourself in! How's that, doll? Yeah! Get it over with quick, maybe Charlize Theron will sign up to play you. [6/16/04]
MILLER: A juror named Justin Falconer -- what is this idiot about? He was dismissed from the Scott Peterson trial Wednesday, said the prosecution had yet to prove how or why Peterson would have killed his wife. Peterson then killed Falconer. [audience laughed] I can only wish. Actually, this asshole [bleeped] 28-year old airport security screener told reporters he would not have found Scott Peterson guilty. [6/24/04]
MILLER: Officials in Los Angeles are vowing to bring to justice any police officers who broke the law during -- [Miller played video clip in which the officer struck the suspect repeatedly] Yeah! Get him! -- ooh, sorry, who broke the law during the beating of a suspected car thief. [6/25/04]
Dennis Miller on Iraqis:
MILLER: A new poll of Iraqis shows that more than half of them believe they would be safer if U.S. troops left their country. In a related story, more than half of Americans believe we would be safer if Iraqis stopped answering poll questions and helped us get their damn lights back on, OK? I love that story, a poll of Iraqis want us to leave. [6/18/04]
MILLER: The Pentagon admitted the Iraqi was never given an identification number and that the Red Cross was never notified about his capture. However, [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld claims the prisoner has been treated in accordance with Geneva Conventions, including regular conjugal visits with his favorite goat. [6/18/04]
Dennis Miller on the French:
MILLER: Trash is piling up on the streets of villages near Naples, Italy. ... And locals in Naples realized they had a problem when even France complained about the smell. ... [Miller displayed an image of French President Jacques Chirac] Frere jockstrap, frere jockstrap -- anybody remember that [from] when you were young? Or am I hallucinating that? [6/1/04]
MILLER: A Japanese man is selling a new shirt with tiny built-in fans designed to keep people cool on hot days. ... However, earlier this week he had to pull the shirts off the market in Europe after a French woman was injured when the fan blades got caught up in her armpit hair. [6/15/04]
MILLER: Government officials in France debuted the country's first driver-less bus this week. The bus, equipped with electromagnetic sensors, has just two gears, forward and reverse -- or, as it is known in France, retreat. ... Yeah, doubled up with the unshaven women armpit [joke] and the fact that they're wusses. [6/15/04]
Dennis Miller on vegetarians, women's sports, the environment, and apartheid:
MILLER: Animal rights advocates unveiled a dress made entirely from lettuce leaves this week as part of the ad campaign to promote vegetarianism. It's a funny coincidence we're doing this story today, because I'm wearing pants made entirely of veal. You know, the lettuce dress ad was commissioned by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Mmmmm, PETA, you know what goes great with pita? Beef. [6/10/04]
MILLER: Women's freestyle wrestling will make its Olympic debut this summer, and here -- [Miller played a video clip of women wrestling] what? What is-- ? Stop that! Stop -- get that off my screen. No mud? Forget it. [6/24/04]
MILLER: Lower gas prices? Great! I'm extending my Hummer limo another twelve feet! Ah, yeah! The environment is my bitch! I like the environment, I just like to rile people up who are crazy about it. Look at that car, isn't it beautiful? [6/28/04]
MILLER: South African schoolchildren set a world record this week by creating the world's longest clothesline. Hey, what do South Africans wash their clothes with? Apar-Tide! [6/28/04]