Jeopardy Has Been Non-Partisan for 40 Years

David B Morris
7 min readFeb 21, 2024

And Despite What You Might Have Thought About Tonight’s Final Jeopardy, It Kept That Tradition Going

No Jeopardy still isn’t endorsing either party and it never will.

One of the many, many things that I appreciate about Jeopardy — even more than you can imagine over the past decade — is that it is still one of the few parts of my life that has no agenda or axe to grind. Some on line might complain about certain contestants not knowing the correct responses to clues that have to do with African-American or other minorities in history or pop culture, but that has nothing to do with any bias on the shows part.

Certainly in the thirty years I have watched Jeopardy, I have never once seen a clue that might suggest some kind of political agenda one way or the other. They have spent as much time devoting categories to Nixon and Reagan as they have FDR and JFK; they deal with Democratic and Republican candidates for both houses of Congress with no real judgment and have no problem showing that members of either political party — or for that matter in any country in the world — is capable of being an idiot. They go out of their way to avoid controversy with their clues when it comes to elected officials, which I greatly respect in a world where everything has a political agenda.

And I have to say this has even been in regards to Trump. Now they mentioned him quite a lot before his Presidency as indeed they would any major public figure. However, while they referred to the 2016 election on more than one occasion in Final Jeopardy over the years, in the decade since he entered the political arena his name has almost never been mentioned. They haven’t mentioned Hilary Clinton or Joe Biden, either, for that matter. It’s not that they’ve ignored him — I remember two years ago Mar-A-Lago was the correct response to Final Jeopardy — but they also mentioned as a correct response to a clue referring to Trump’s wedding to Ivanka once, so even that’s not much. Even in the last three years, as Trump lingers over the rest of the world, they have still not referred to him. They have mentioned many other Democratic and Republican office holders, they’ve talked about the Supreme Court, they’ve even mentioned some of his most vicious detractors such as Liz Cheney. But when it comes to one of the most talked about figures in America, Jeopardy hasn’t talked about him at all.

As someone who has spent the last eight years with 45 living in my head rent-free much of the time, for this relief much thanks. And I hoped very much that, in what will be a long year that Jeopardy will continue to be this oasis.

Then on Tuesday’s Final Jeopardy, I had a sinking feeling that the writer’s were going to break this long-standing rule and, even by absence, take a side.

Tonight’s Final Jeopardy category had to do with PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. This in itself meant nothing: The Presidency is a category that Jeopardy has dealt with countless times in Final Jeopardy and has had variations on the elections more times than you can count. The fact that this is an election year made it a near inevitability it would come up at least once and I imagine we will see some version of it quite a few times before November and maybe once or twice after.

Then came the clue: “He’s the most recent presidential candidate to have officially declared his opponent in that campaign the victor.”

I could see three groups of people reacting when that clue was read out.

PROGRESSIVES: “Yes! Jeopardy is finally going to take a stand on the last election.”

CONSERVATIVES: “Jeopardy’s about to demonstrate that it’s part of the Hollywood elite.”

JEOPARDY FANS: “We’re about to become part of cancel culture, aren’t we?”

The latter was my reaction, at least, and as I tried to work the clue out in my head, I had this sinking feeling in my gut that this would be the end of the bubble my show was in. While I was doing that, I did was all of you did — I misread the clue.

This was for the record, the last semi-final game in the Champions Wild Card so a lot was riding on it anyway, but I forgot that.

Kat Jepson was in third. Her response was: “Who is McCain?” That was incorrect.

Next came Alex Gordon. His response: “Who is Mitt Romney?” That’s what I thought it was and I blinked when I heard it was incorrect.

Next came Jesse Matheny who was in the lead. He wrote down: “Who is Al Gore?” And once Ken Jennings ruled it correct, he explain why it was and then I realized how I’d misread the clue.

You all did the same thing. We all thought that this meant which defeated presidential candidate conceded the election. The thing is that’s not the same thing as declaring your opponent the winner.

As Ken Jennings pointed out: “it is the sitting vice president who certifies the Electoral College Count, and the last sitting Veep to lose to his opponent was Al Gore.”

I’ll admit Jennings proceeded this with the fact that “as I think we know now” but that’s all the editorializing he did, and considering how much news we have all heard about this over the past three years, that’s not so much editorializing as reminding. This is part and parcel of any Jeopardy host, Trebek, Jennings or all the guest hosts in between, so don’t anyone say that Ken Jennings is some tool of the leftist machine because he simply stated what anyone whose watched the news for the last couple of years has known.

Now in case either side is trying to read something into the fact that he mentioned Al Gore, who as we all know lost the popular vote to George W. Bush, remember the phrasing of the clue: most recent. That means it has happened before. Indeed, it’s happened more often than you might think.

In 1860 John C. Breckenridge was James Buchanan’s Vice President. In that year’s election, the Democrats split into Northern and Southern factions; the Southern factions nominated Breckinridge for President; the Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas. That year Breckenridge had to declare that the winner was Abraham Lincoln. That said, Breckenridge would eventually leave to join the Confederacy, so I don’t know for certain he actually performed his duties but it would have been his role.

Exactly one hundred years later Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s Vice President had to certify the winner of the 1960 election and declare John F. Kennedy his opponent, the victor. Eight years later, Nixon was on the other side of this as his defeated opponent Hubert Humphrey had to do the same and declare him the victor. And though it’s not quite the same thing, after Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, Walter Mondale had to do the same when he was elected President but that’s a different story. (I only mention it because Mondale ran for President four years later; if I had to do this with every incumbent Vice President who had declare someone they were defeated by as the winner, we’d be at this a lot longer — though not as long as you’d think.)

Now in case you were wondering, there have also been four occasions when the Vice President declared himself the victor of the election just passed. In fact the first two ‘official’ elections for President involved that exact event. John Adams declared himself the victor over Thomas Jefferson in 1796 and four years later Jefferson did the exact same thing (though if you remember your history, there was a lot more than that to get there.) In 1836 Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson’s second Vice President declared himself the winner after defeating, among others, William Henry Harrison for President. And in 1988, George H.W. Bush declared himself President over Michael Dukakis.

Now I have little doubt, because everything anything does is under a microscope, that Jeopardy will be critiqued by countless people for taking a political stand by one side or the other even though all it really did was basically do what it has always done in some form, force its contestants to rack their brains on historical knowledge. Just a reminder, neither Jennings nor the writers acknowledged either candidate in 2020 or anything that happened in the aftermath. All they did was deal with a historical fact, like they have countless other historical facts. They’ve mentioned elections in the past before; they’ll do it again.

All I care about now is that when I realized that Jeopardy was simply trying to educate us rather than take a side, I not only breathed easier but was reminded of this fact. This fact, like it does with so many other Final Jeopardys caused me to do some research which leads me to explore fascinating layers of information that I often do not consider. Try to take that away from you tonight, you know, rather than argue that Jeopardy is either, you know, part of the deep state or trying to be both-sided. It hasn’t been that in forty years; it won’t start now.

--

--

David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.