Why Game-Show Hosts Vote Republican
by Rebecca Dana The Daily Beast | print_link]
The rest of Hollywood may swing left, but from Pat Sajak’s new National Review column to Chuck Woolery, game show hosts are the right’s secret weapon. Rebecca Dana exposes the TV staple’s true colors—from Alex Trebek’s $3,000 donation to former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, to Pat Sajak’s $10,000 to conservatives like Fred Thompson and John McCain, to Ben Stein’s over $30,000 to conservative causes since 1998.
He’ll take Michael Steele for $2,000, Alex.
That “he” is Pat Sajak, host of the Jeopardy! companion Wheel of Fortune, and that donation to the chairman of the Republican National Committee is one of many the game-show host has made to conservative candidates in his lifetime. Sajak, who’s been relatively quiet about his politics until recently, blasted onto the national pundit scene in October with the debut of his column for National Review Online.
With this, he cemented his place in one of the conservative movement’s most elite and rarefied constituencies: right-wing game-show hosts.
A tiny island of Reagan Republicanism in the vast sea of liberal Hollywood, television’s greatest arbiters of luck and love—including Chuck Woolery, Drew Carey, Wink Martindale, Merv Griffin, and many others—have regularly loaned their support and opened their wallets to right-wing candidates and causes, collectively donating more than $100,000 since 1998. [If true, this is really a paltry stingy sum for such fat cats. However, what’s important is that these guys are on the right when it comes to solving America’s problems.—Eds]
Sajak alone has given more than $10,000, including fat checks to Fred Thompson, Bob Dole, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, George Allen, and Rick Lazio, as well as Steele. Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy!, gave $3,000 to former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
“I am a conservative thinker. My political choices usually follow that path,” says John O’Hurley (left), a former host of Family Feud who donated more than $2,000 to Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. “I am a strong believer in individual responsibility both in the quality of my actions and in setting the direction for my life.”
O’Hurley’s fellow hosts, like all successful television personalities, are loath to risk alienating even one possible viewer by talking openly about anything controversial.
Is there something about the traditional game-show format—its reinforcement of old-fashioned family values, its populist sensibility, its neat 22-minute crystallization of the American dream—that draws a more conservative type to host? Is it that the show’s core audience, residing in the flyover states, generally prefers a certain red-blooded sort of man in charge? Is it all just a silly coincidence?
“It makes sense to me that these hosts are pretty heavily Republican,” said Olaf Hoerschelmann, a professor at Indiana University, author of Rules of the Game: Quiz Shows and American Culture and perhaps the world’s leading (“only,” in his words) expert on game shows. “To have the right sensibility to be a game-show host, you do have to have a belief in rugged individualism—either you make it or you’re not worth it.”
Gallery of Game Show Hosts
Hoerschelmann’s research showed that these programs—while never exactly rocket science—grew precipitously less intellectual and more populist in the early 1980s, in tune with the Reagan years. With the exception of Jeopardy!, popular shows increasingly tested not actual knowledge but everyman intuition, he says. Family Feud, for example, challenged contestants to guess what 100 randomly surveyed people on the street would say in response to some hypothetical question.Supermarket Sweep had them run around a grocery store.
“Generally the ideology of acquiring money and achieving fortune through luck goes along pretty well with a certain basic capitalist attitude,” Hoerschelmann said. There also seems to be an element of free enterprise involved. Many hosts have other independent ventures—Chuck Woolery sells branded fishing equipment; Wink Martindale operates Wink’s World, which attempts to spread a patriotic message—and many own a piece of their shows.
But even the less vocal ones have found ways to lend their support. According to records from the Federal Election Commission, game-show kingpin Griffin, creator of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, gave more than $50,000 to Republicans between 1998 and 2007, the year he died. Martindale, host of Tic Tac Dough and many other shows, gave $2,000 to George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. Jeff Foxworthy, host of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, gave $1,000 to Bush in 2004 and another $3,000 to the RNC. Drew Carey, host of The Price Is Right, has given $5,000 to George Voinovich and $2,300 to Ron Paul. And former Nixon aide Ben Stein, who hosted Win Ben Stein’s Money on Comedy Central in the early Aughts, has given well over $30,000 since 1998.
In addition to his contributions to the Hagel campaign, Trebek (right), a Canadian by birth who became an American citizen in 1998, was listed as a host for a February 2010 fundraiser in Malibu, hosted by the PAC Combat Veterans for Congress, supporting 18 Republican candidates. A spokesman for Trebek said the host “didn’t actually do that,” and that “My guess is that they asked to use his name, and since veterans were involved and he’s worked for years with the USO, there might have been some confusion. But he did not attend, or host, or sponsor. “
Combat Veterans for Congress, which has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, did not return calls and an email for comment. Through his spokesman, Trebek also declined to comment. “He doesn’t think he has anything to add to this discussion,” the spokesman said.
Sajak—whose first National Review Online column asserted that since “none of my family and friends is allowed to appear on Wheel of Fortune,” government employees shouldn’t be allowed to vote—declined, through the magazine, to comment. Carey also declined to comment, through a spokesman. The other hosts did not respond to repeated requests.
There are a few Democrats in the bunch, including Let’s Make a Deal’s Monty Hall, who donated $250 to Joe Lieberman’s presidential campaign, and Tom Bergeron of Dancing With the Stars, who has given more than $8,000 to left-wing causes, including more than $3,000 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But most hosts wield long-stemmed microphones in their left hand and vote with their right.
“To have the right sensibility to be a game-show host, you do have to have a belief in rugged individualism—either you make it or you’re not worth it,” says Professor Hoerschelmann.
O’Hurley, who listed his primary extracurricular interests as his wife and child, is involved with a company called Energy Inc., that processes landfill waste into energy, and is a founder of a charity called Golfers Against Cancer. He’s not one to trumpet his politics.
“Those are my private views,” he said. “Just because I am a celebrity, doesn’t mean the that my opinions deserve to be celebrated. I am just another bozo on the bus.”
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone, and Slate, among other publications.
COMMENTS (BE WARNED, SOME ARE ASININE, AS USUAL)
POTPOURRI FOR $20: It’s interesting that these “hosts” who find themselves giving away other people’s money (ie sponsors) seem quite stingy in using their own money in the political arena.
2:25 pm, Nov 1, 2010
That’s what makes this story even more ridiculous. Because what Dana’s getting all excited about are some really paltry donations. Imagine! Ben Stein has given $30,000 over the past 12 years! Not so thrilling when you divide it by 12 and get $2,500 a year. The numbers get even less thrilling when you take that $100,000 over 12 years, and divide it by the 8 guys mentioned in the article along with “many others” – we’re talking about an average of a few hundred dollars each. What a scoop!
3:10 pm, Nov 1, 2010
It’s their job to “give away” that money. Those sponsors are paying for and receiving a service. How is that relevant at all?
3:15 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Strange these guys didn’t want to talk to TDB. You reckon it’s because they knew a hatchet job was would be done whatever they said and no way were they going to cooperate? Smart of them. As usual with lefty journos, this article reads like anthropological visit was paid to an unknown tribe and written upon safe return to a safe elitist bubble where theory is preferred to reality.
5:15 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Sorry, what does getting stuff for free have to do with capitalism? Seems to me game show contestants are doing the exact opposite of earning what they get, and their commie socialist game show hosts are their enablers, wouldn’t you say?
2:38 am, Nov 1, 2010
I disagree. Contestants compete with other contestants for money, earning whatever is on offer for the winner, following a structure created by the show, providing an end product – meaning the entertainment of the viewer. Losers of such shows at best earn some token reward for showing up to help out providing the end product, meaning minimum wage. Sounds like the free market to me.
10:20 pm, Nov 1, 2010
i think jeopardy is like capitalism but wheel of fortune is obviously socialism. and that makes who wants to be a millionaire fascism, and tic tac toe a theocracy.
IF YOU’RE HIGH!
12:04 am, Nov 2, 2010
drstevebrule – I don’t know about Wheel of Fortune being socialist. I live with an older person, so I’ve seen a bit of it.
It has contestants who compete to solve puzzles for prizes and cash, and there is only one winner, though everyone leaves either with what they earned, or in the case of the contestant who doesn’t solve any, a consolation prize not unlike the ironically named earned income tax credit. I think Wheel of Fortune is like America. Free market with a safety net of sorts.
I can’t say anything about the other shows, other than Jeopardy, as I don’t watch them.
8:23 am, Nov 2, 2010
I can’t fault Trebek for giving money to Chuck Hagel. Hagel is the ONLY Republican with any sense. I would aggressively support Chuck Hagel’s run for President in 2016.
11:35 am, Nov 1, 2010
nycwerewolf: If Hagel is your favorite Republican you are a liberal Democrat. Enjoy your day tomorrow.
5:16 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Nice to know there is some intelligent life form still left in Hollywood… thanks for the article….
12:01 pm, Nov 1, 2010
The only one of these shows I’ve watched is Jeopardy. The rest are crap and for the 80 year old people wanting shit for free demographic, whose demise is right around the corner. The younger generation is going to destroy the GOP. Gone in one generation. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.
12:24 pm, Nov 1, 2010
I would think it’s because most game show contestants are teabaggers and people who carry misspelled signs.
1:01 pm, Nov 1, 2010
looks like poon attended the Restore Sanity Rally yesterday….
1:32 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Actually I was on Jeopardy back in ’94 (but didn’t win, unfortunately), and I am a proud Democrat, hardly a Teabagger. By the way Alex Trebek was really terrific, so I could care less what his political persuasion is.
9:11 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Uh, because they’re low-information dolts who pander to same crowds as Faux News, Alex?
Seriously, my teabagger mother and her cronies watch only Faux and gameshows, so I’m guessing the hosts have to know what kind of coded, dog-whistle lingo will work best on their audiences as they fall asleep after the 4:30pm saulsbury steak special at Golden Corral.
3:38 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Jeez, disrespect your mother (and seniors in general) much?
5:23 pm, Nov 1, 2010
“Sajak alone has given more than $10,000, including fat checks to Fred Thompson, Bob Dole, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, George Allen, and Rick Lazio” …
All crash-and-burn political losers. Stick to your day job, Sajak.
4:08 pm, Nov 1, 2010
uh, who cares? I don’t watch game shows or anything reality.
4:18 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Why is everyone insulting the game shows? They’re fun puzzles (most of them), not necessarily idiotic. The hosts’ politics matter about as much as who Snooki is voting for, as long as they do their job onscreen they amount to one vote each just like the rest of us, right?
5:22 pm, Nov 1, 2010
The politics of these guys matter because of what they do outside of the studios with their fame and money. In the nincompoop spectacle society they can swing many people with their opinions and “examples”.
OF COURSE they are Republicans! The are paid enormous amounts of money for a few hours of work each week, which requires no special talent or education. Sounds like a banker to me!
5:35 pm, Nov 1, 2010
Amusing that planted right in the middle of an article about the right wing bias of game show hosts (really?) there’s an ad for ABC News election night coverage with George (The War Room) Stephenopolous (sp?). This guy is supposedly a “journalist” but take a look at the documentary on Bill Clinton’s ’92 campaign. Bias is much easier to spell than Stephano…oh, nevermind.
5:53 pm, Nov 1, 2010
The writer of this story proves the saying, “there are no new stories, just new reporters.” Pat Sajak’s politics have been well known for over two decades. He’s made no secret of it, but way to make it seem like you made a big discovery. Next tell us Clooney is a liberal.
8:07 pm, Nov 2, 2010