David Zurawik

Martin O'Malley does 'Late Night with Seth Meyers' not so well

Martin O'Malley on NBC's  "Late Show with Seth Meyers."

In case you haven't noticed, there's a late-night TV booking war for presidential candidates going on.

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Joe Biden have all been showing up on network talk shows right after the late news since the arrival of Stephen Colbert on CBS last week.


And then there's Martin O'Malley in late, late night with Seth Meyers getting about eight minutes of network time around 1:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Poor Martin O'Malley, a late-night talk show is one of the last places he should go in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.


Late-night talk shows -- and even more so late late-night talk shows like Meyer's on NBC -- are mostly about being conversational when it comes to guests. That's why the set features a couch and not a podium for them.

But O'Malley blasted away in high rhetoric like he was speaking to a convention hall of 25,000 people instead of casually "chatting" with a host sitting a few feet away from him behind a desk.

Meyers asked O'Malley why he said America should take in 65,000 refugees from Syria when President Obama has been talking about taking in only 10,000.

"We are a great nation," O'Malley replied stumbling over "nation" a bit. "We are a generous nation. We are a compassionate people. And our enduring symbol is not barbed wire fences. It is not a chainlink fence. It is the Statue of Liberty."

And then, he tried to take it even higher with a portentous warning.

"And don't think for a second that the countries in the Middle East and the Muslim countries in particular aren't watching how we act in this crisis. We have the ability to alleviate this human suffering. That little boy's body coming up on the beach - we are not a people to sit back when that happens."

This "we are not a people" language is O'Malley reaching for the "ask not what your country can do for you" eloquence of John Kennedy. But Kennedy was speaking to large gatherings on great occasions when he used such language - not a TV talkshow airing at 1:15 a.m.

It is astonishing to me after all his years in public office as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland that he has never learned how to throttle his style down for the intimate medium of late-night TV.


Speaking of all those years in office, O'Malley told Meyers that the difference between him and the other candidates is "15 years of executive experience actually getting things done."

Baltimore is still dealing with the legacy of some of things the former mayor got done - like instituting zero tolerance policing.

In Annapolis, O'Malley's successor, Larry Hogan, has some thoughts on the job the former governor got done on the furniture he took with him on his way out the door of the governor's mansion.

On a lighter note, no, O'Malley did not play the guitar or sing.

But Meyers did hold up a picture of O'Malley onstage in a shirt with the sleeves cut off holding his guitar in such a way that it would show off one of his flexed biceps.

And the host commented on the bicep shown in the picture, saying if O'Malley is not elected president, maybe he should be "secretary of hunkery."


Meyers returned to the theme during O'Malley's segment saying that GOP candidate Donald Trump called O'Malley "a little, weak, pathetic baby."

Holding up the bicep shot again, Mayers said, "If this doesn't prove the lack of honesty in his campaign. I mean, come on, what more does he need?"

Actually, what O'Malley needs is to study how someone like Trump handles being a talk-show guest. He can start with the "Tonight Show" tape from last from last Friday with Trump and Jimmy Fallon.

Ask not how soaring your rhetoric can be, Martin. Ask how personal, conversational, colloquial and even confessional you can make your chatter sound.