Sunday, April 30, 2006

Colbert Speaks Truthiness To Power

I thought Stephen Colbert pulled no punches at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night in Washington.

Editor & Publisher reports the preznit and Laura felt the same way. They left the dinner unsmiling after Colbert said, among other things, that he admired the preznit because Bush believes the same thing on Wednesday that he does on Monday, no matter what has happened on Tuesday. Colbert also joked about the CIA leak case (pointing out that Joe Wilson and his wife were sitting just three tables away from Karl Rove), photo ops on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, the administration's post-war screw-ups in Iraq, and the recent reshuffling of the White House staff, which he noted was less like a rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic and more like a reshuffling of the deckchairs on the Hindenburg.

The press also took some jabs. Here's my favorite:

Also lampooning the press, Colbert complained that he was “surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country, except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides of the story — the president’s side and the vice president’s side." He also reflected on the alleged good old days, when the media was still swallowing the WMD story.

Addressing the reporters, he said, "Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction."

The laughter was pretty scattered throughout Colbert's performance. Editor & Publisher says some in the room thought the jokes were a little too biting and harsh.

And that's the problem with the Washington press corps. They're so worried about insulting the power elites they report on that they ignore inconvenient truths and rely on the kind of polite reporting and innocuous bullshit that has allowed the current administration to get away with lying to start a war, spying on people at home, torturing "terror suspects" and/or rendering them to countries that will do our torture bidding for us among other crimes.

But hey, at least they're still on good terms with George and Laura.

UPDATE: Peter Daou at Huffingtonpost hammers the media for ignoring Colbert's sharp criticism of the administration to its most public face (the preznit) while lapping up the preznit's own performance earlier in the night:

The AP's first stab at it - and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune - tell us everything we need to know: Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. The story could just as well have been Bush and Laura's discomfort and the crowd's semi-hostile reaction to Colbert's razor-sharp barbs. In fact, I would guess that from the perspective of newsworthiness and public interest, Bush-the-playful-president is far less compelling than a comedy sketch gone awry, a pissed-off prez, and a shell-shocked audience.

This is the power of the media to choose the news, to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity. Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission.


A final thought: Bush's clownish banter with reporters - which is on constant display during press conferences - stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?

It really was painful to watch at times because the crowd seemed so hostile to Colbert. But what exactly did they expect when they tapped Colbert for the dinner? Did they think they were going to get good-humored, "We're all in this together" Jay Leno humor?

I'm glad Colbert had the guts to do what he did last night and thus we should all award Stephen Colbert a big brass set of "Colbert Balls" for weathering the hostile reception of the Washington elite last night in order to tell truth to power.

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