Friday, May 4—the day that will live in infamy. Not because of the long-awaited Assclown Smackdown debate between Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson and TV/radio personality Sean Hannity, but because new City Weekly editor Holly Mullen finally gave me an assignment: Cover the debate. OK, it was really more of an afterthought, like “Well, the ASUU sent over a media-request fax and nobody else here wants to go—you’re on it, Frost.” Now I don’t have to take another order for the rest of the year—score!
An hour before show time outside of Kingsbury Hall, the media almost outnumbered the ticket-holders; reporters and their cameramen would size up small groups and jump in with “Are you here for Rocky or Hannity?” then hang back and wait for the soundbite magic. Since I was stag and apparently didn’t have that right glint of crazy in my eyes (just, sadly, sobriety), they avoided me—until Fox 13’s Andrea Fujii came up and asked “Excuse me, have you chosen a side in the debate?” My reply: “No, I can’t stand either one of ‘em.” She was momentarily excited, until I told her I was there covering the event just like her—minus the perfect hair. “Oh, you don’t count, then.” Thanks, Andrea.
The crowd of Hannitards (who seemed to be the majority outside) and Rockheads (who, like typical liberals, were fashionably late) then filtered into Kingsbury, and I was led to my seat on Media Row in the rear of the hall. To my left, no less than four Salt Lake Tribune reporters with laptops blazing. To my right, Jesse Kennedy, the videogame reviewer from SLUG magazine. To his right, yet more Tribune people. They were covering the shit out of this thing.
KSL Newsradio’s Doug Wright took the stage and instantly proved those of us who believed he could never be more annoying than he is on the air very wrong—I’d say he’s an insincere, smarmy game-show host, but I have too much respect for game-show hosts. After a seeming eternity of Wrighteousness, he finally introduced the real star of the show, moderator Ken Verdoia. Coming across like a public-television version of The Daily Show’s Lewis Black, the KUED host laid out the ground rules for the debate and shut down the show's first heckler (“Put a sock in it!”). It was the last time he was in control of anything for the rest of the night.
Verdoia then introduced Anderson, who walked onstage to a 50/50 barrage of cheers and boos. Anderson talked his way through a PowerPoint presentation like the lawyer he is, stopping just short of superimposing George W. Bush’s face over Adolf Hitler’s (you know his handlers talked him out of it while he pled “But it’ll be sooo cool!”). As far as making an intellectual case for getting the hell out of Iraq and impeaching Bush, Anderson essentially nailed it (and, of course, went over time). Too bad this wasn’t an intellectual event.
Hannity came out and did what Hannity does: Bash liberals, Democrats and anyone who doesn’t have their heads ensconced as firmly up the Republican Party’s ass as he does—and the Kool-Aid drinkers loooved it. No facts, no figures, just pure hucksterism and showmanship. It’s easy to see why the Hannitards have been sucked in: The guy’s good, a “straight-shootin’” charmer. In all of his bullshit, however, Hannity actually made excellent points about partisan politics and divisive rhetoric … while dispensing partisan politics and divisive rhetoric.
Oh, and the Trib reporters who listened so intently to Anderson mostly yakked amongst themselves while Hannity spoke, while Jesse and I played Mystery Science Theater 3000 smart-asses during both—you can’t pigeonhole the Liberal Media, damn it!
Then came the Q&A periods: Anderson and Hannity asking questions of each other, followed by written questions for both from the audience. Save for Verdoia’s exasperated comic relief (“I would throw this watch away, but it was a gift from my wife”), the rest of the evening was the shrill clusterfuck pro-wrestling match that local newscasts had been promising for weeks. But I still have more respect for the WWE.
In conclusion: No minds were changed, nobody “won,” local charities made some good money, Doug Wright is a smarmy game-show host, Ken Verdoia is The Man, Andrea Fujii believes I don’t count, the Tribune has waaay too many reporters (and Rebecca Walsh didn’t even say goodbye—I thought we had a real connection), beer tastes much better after a long-ass debate (a Tetley’s at The Republican—thanks, Jon Dunn of KSL Newsradio’s Nightside Project), and I may have a name-dropping problem … (Bill Frost)
Fox 13: The Rocky vs. Hannity debate video