Donald Trump was one of Jimmy Fallon's guests on The Tonight Show earlier this week, and his appearance left a bad taste in many critics' mouths. The common complaint was that Fallon was too soft on the candidate and failed to ask him questions of any substance.
In fact, all that most people seem to be talking about is one particular moment near the end of the interview. Before Trump was about to depart, Fallon asked if he could mess up Trump's infamous coif. I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I believe that might have been the toughest question asked of the Republican candidate. Most of the interview was seemingly conducted in a way to humanize Trump to voters who may have been turned off by his rampant racist, sexist, and xenophobic attitudes or who have grown weary of his incessant lies throughout the campaign. Instead of calling Trump out on any of these issues -- or the hundreds of others that have cropped up throughout the campaign -- Fallon seemed content setting him up for jokes and various soundbites.
Of course, as many pointed out, Fallon isn't exactly a journalist. His job as host of The Tonight Show is, primarily, to entertain and secondly to get ratings. Trump's appearance, and the softball questions lobbed at him, certainly ticked both those topics. Still, others have said that Fallon does have some responsibility to his audience, citing David Letterman's Trump interview as an example. Letterman, tired of Trump's repeated criticisms of China, called him out on air about having items from his clothing line manufactured there. Seth Meyers is another example many people cite as having an element of comedic responsibility, owed to the Trump ban with respect to appearances on Late Night.
Some critics conceded that Fallon shouldn't be held to the same high, journalistic standards but still felt that he had an obligation to do more than just let Trump use The Tonight Show for some additional free publicity.
I don't fault Jimmy Fallon for not being a journalist. I do fault him for his willingness to serve as hell's court jester.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) September 16, 2016
In his defense, Jimmy Fallon just pulled in a 35 share among white supremacists 18-49.— Ken Jennings (@KenJennings) September 16, 2016
Fallon interviewing Hitler: "Let's talk about your book!"— Megan Amram (@meganamram) September 16, 2016
I get that it's not Jimmy Fallon's job to tear down fascism but he had an opportunity and let it fly by so fuck him.— Cloudy Lemonade (@KarmineSA) September 16, 2016
"Wow, Donald Trump went on Jimmy Fallon, acted cute, & let Jimmy mess up his hair! I guess that erases the years of Trump's hate speech!"— Eric Wolfson (@EricWolfson) September 16, 2016
The debate is an interesting one -- and one without an easy answer. On one hand, Fallon did waste a precious opportunity to tear down Trump and to call him out on his racist, sexist, and xenophobic attitudes. Fallon could have gone the Letterman route and confronted him with one of his many lies or hypocrisies. On the other hand, as mentioned, Fallon has a job to do, and that doesn't necessarily involve potentially alienating viewers who may be Trump supporters. While there isn't a solution or definitive response to the question of late night comedy and integrity, it is one that is bound to come up at least a few more times before this long election is finally over.