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Thursday, May 04, 2006


Bending Over To Prove Colbert Right

The media reaction to Stephen Colbert's devastating routine (transcript here) at the White House Correspondent's Dinner on Saturday has been almost as entertaining as Colbert's performance. All of the offended anchors, reporters and pundits have unintentionally confirmed everything Colbert implied about their craven servility and abdication of their journalistic responsibilities. The same pompous insiders he eviscerated first tried to ignore it away, then as the blog firestorm ensued, fell all over themselves to explain why Colbert failed: he simply wasn't funny, he misread the room, he was disrespectful, he was rude, he didn't know his place, "singe don't burn", on and on. Anything to rationalize ignoring the substance of the critique behind Colbert's satire.

In today's Washington Post, Richard Cohen claims the ultimate prize/shame for clueless toadyism, with a column that is every bit as funny--and just as condemnatory, in its own unintentional way--as Colbert's speech. Really, just read the first paragraph in Colbert's voice and try not to laugh--or throw up in your mouth a little. Whatever feels right.
First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy. This is well known in certain circles, which is why, even back in elementary school, I was sometimes asked by the teacher to "say something funny" -- as if the deed could be done on demand. This, anyway, is my standing for stating that Stephen Colbert was not funny at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. All the rest is commentary.
With material like this to work with, it must be like shooting fish in a barrel for Colbert. cohen goes on to declare Colbert's material "lame", call speaking truth to power a cliche that doesn't even apply here because Colbert was in no danger of being killed or thrown in a dungeon (America! The highest standards in the world!) and that one of Colbert's funniest lines, "This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!" fails to amuse because it's a mixed metaphor. Yeah, I can see why Cohen's grade school teacher thought he was such a cut-up.

One thing that has been impossible not to notice is the press's continued avoidance of Colbert's criticism of them. The Chris Matthews and Richard Cohens have embarrassed themselves with hyperventilating, chivalrous defenses of the helpless President's honor, but I have yet to see any of them really tackle the most stinging section of Colbert's routine:
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, 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. Just put 'em 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!
If only our Washington news media could muster the same level of indignation they've directed at Colbert for a president who routinely declares his right to ignore the law, who has launched a distastrous war, and who has devoted himself to remaking American government into a defacto dictatorship. But perhaps that would be too "rude" of them. If nothing else, Cohen and his ilk know how to "play the room" of Washington. They do so at the expense of the truth, their personal dignity and their responsibility as reporters. One thing is clear; it's desperately important for them to maintain the pathetic illusion that they are chums with the politicians who disdain them at least as much as Colbert does.

The press secretary bit did go on too long, though.

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