Let's get one thing straight, people. Jimmy Fallon is not a news anchor. He is not a journalist. He is a comedian with a talk show, and should be treated as such, and yet people often accuse him of being too soft on and silly with his guests. Recently, Fallon got in hot water once again for his lighthearted interview with presidential candidate Donald Trump; during the mogul's time on the show, Fallon chose to involve him in sketches rather than ask him hard-hitting questions and confront him about things he has said during his run so far. In an interview with Bill Carter at Sirius XM Radio, Fallon responded to criticisms about his interview style in a well-spoken, yet obviously frustrated manner.
"It's not my job. It's not Meet the Press, I'm not Face the Nation," Fallon said. "My job, again, is to make everyone look good, no matter who it is — if you're a politician, whatever it is. We have people on there people don't like, I know that. But that's not my job. You make your own opinion. I can just show you the best person they are, try to bring out their more personal side, and play with them."
You may not agree with him, and think that any interviewer, no matter the type of show, should ask the occasional hard-hitting question. Yet Fallon has a point, and personally, I'm on his side in this argument. Fallon is not on CNN; he's not a serious journalist who got his job as the host of The Tonight Show on the merits of being a reporter. As we all know, he got his big break as a performer on Saturday Night Live, went into movies for awhile, and then came back to NBC to host Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. He's a guy known for not being able to keep a straight face during sketches, for being a jovial, fun, and adorable comedian. While he may have successfully anchored the Weekend Update desk for awhile on SNL with Tina Fey, it was done as a humor segment, and it certainly doesn't make him qualified to be called a journalist. That would be like calling Kerry Washington an actual political fixer because she plays one on Scandal.
But Fallon is not the only TV show host who has received criticism for asking softer, easier questions to his or her guests. Even Larry King has received backlash for his interview style, and he's responded to the criticism in a similar way to Fallon, telling PopMatters:
“I’ve never understood that. All I’ve tried to do is ask the best questions I could think of, listen to the answers, and then follow up. I’ve never not followed up. I don’t attack anybody—that’s not my style—but I follow up. I’ve asked people who say this, 'What’s a softball question?' They’ll say, 'You say to some movie star, what’s your next project?' To me, that’s not a softball. To me, that’s interesting— what are you doing next?”
But one of the best responses to this kind of criticism is from the one and only Jon Stewart, who, while on the now-defunct series Crossfire on CNN, experienced attacks from hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala about the way he runs his show, particularly when he has politicians as guests. Said Stewart,
"It's interesting to hear you talk about my responsibility. I didn't realize that —and maybe this explains quite a bit— is that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their queues on integrity. My point is this, if your idea of confronting me is that I don't ask hard-hitting enough news questions, we're in bad shape fellas... You're on CNN, the show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls! What is wrong with you?"
He has a good point — the platform of a talk show — in this case, Comedy Central vs. CNN — matters tremendously when deciding what's "appropriate" interview behavior. Even Fallon, whose show is on NBC, should be given some slack, as nothing about the show indicates that it's his version of 60 Minutes. Clearly, some people like to play the blame game and criticize comedian hosts for not asking the tough questions despite this fact, but as Stewart also pointed out on Crossfire, it goes both ways: not all news shows — i.e. Crossfire, which he heavily criticized — delve into deeper territory, either.
While Fallon may never need to be this direct and confrontational about the criticism he faces (Stewart likely did this because he was being specifically attacked), he certainly has every right to stand up for what he does on his show. He hosts a late-night talk show with jokes, sketches, songs and more, not a serious news hour. He's not meant to be a hard-hitting journalist, and he doesn't deserve to be attacked as if he is one. He does his job well and he entertains millions of people. Isn't that enough?