Thursday, May 04, 2006
Stephen Colbert's Attack On Bush Gets A Big 'No Comment' From U.S. Media
Consider why this sarcastic take-down of President Bush allegedly went largely
uncovered by the mainstream media.
Stephen Colbert's Attack On Bush Gets A Big 'No Comment' From U.S. Media
05.02.2006 3:46 PM EDT
Mainstream outlets largely ignore Comedy Central host's scathing remarks at
White House dinner.
Stephen Colbert speaks at the White House Correspondents Association dinner
in Washington, D.C., on Saturday
By Gil Kaufman
Posted at: MTV.COM
Hey, did you hear about the White House Correspondents Association dinner
Oh, yeah, that cute thing where President Bush parried with a look-alike
and poked fun at himself? That was adorable.
No, not that. Did you hear
the three or four dozen verbal napalm bombs that Comedy Central's Stephen
Colbert laid out for the president at the
annual dinner on Saturday night? No?
Well, maybe it's because much of the mainstream media from CNN to Fox
News, from the "Today" show to The New York Times
ignored or largely glossed over reporting on the stinging zingers Colbert
lobbed Bush's way in favor of brief mentions
of his more innocuous jokes.
Colbert's comments were nothing if not controversial.
During his show-closing roast, Colbert whose TV program, "The Colbert
Report," is built on the premise that he is a
flag-waving Bush apologist looked the president in the eye and let loose a
characteristically blistering barrage of
invective, which was met with a stunned silence by the crowd and reportedly
made the most powerful man in the free world
squirm in his seat on the dais.
Colbert said things like, "Most of all, I believe in this president. Now, I
know there are some polls out there saying
this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay
attention to the polls. We know that polls are
just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in
'reality.' And reality has a well-known liberal
bias. ... Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is
half-empty, because 32 percent means it's two-thirds
empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't
drink it. The last third is usually backwash."
There was also sarcastic praise for Bush's tendency to stick to his guns.
"The greatest thing about this man is he's
steady. You know where he stands," Colbert said. "He believes the same
thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no
matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never
Colbert stayed in character during his entire monologue, calling Bush his
"hero" and saying, just a minute into his talk,
that being at the correspondents' dinner made him feel like he was
dreaming. "Somebody pinch me," he said, setting up a
sharp left jab to Vice President Dick Cheney. "You know what? I'm a
pretty sound sleeper, that may not be enough.
Somebody shoot me in the face."
No aspect of the president's troubles over the past year was given a pass:
From the NSA spying scandal ("If anybody needs
anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly on into your table
numbers and somebody from the NSA will be right
over with a cocktail"), to the premature declaration of "Mission
Accomplished" in Iraq he made three years ago to the
disastrous government response to Hurricane Katrina.
"I stand by this man because he stands for things," Colbert said. "Not only
for things, has he stood on things. Things
like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And
that sends a strong message: that no matter what
happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged
photo ops in the world."
One reason for the media's reluctance to report Colbert's comments could be
that some were directed at them.
"Here's how it works," he said. "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've 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
He also took some broad slaps at Fox News, saying the news station gives
you every side of a story: "the president's side
and the vice president's side."
Not surprisingly, Colbert got a chilly reception after the speech from the
president and his wife. According to an
account in Editor and Publisher, "as Colbert walked from the podium, when
it was over, the president and first lady gave
him quick nods, unsmiling. The president shook his hand and tapped his
elbow, and left immediately."
More surprising has been the chilly reception his speech the sentiment of
which was very much in line with any number
of editorials that appear in major American periodicals every week has
received from the mainstream media. Some outlets
have essentially treated him as they would a heckler; others criticized his
failure to observe the decorum of the annual
dinner, the jokes of which traditionally stop well short of Colbert's level
Writing in a blog on the Web site of the conservative magazine National
Review, reporter Stephen Spruiell suggested that
the virtual media blackout was not a result of the press protecting Bush,
but rather their colleague, Colbert.
"I like Stephen Colbert as someone who watches cable news every day, I
find his pundit-show satire is dead-on,"
Spruiell wrote. "But his routine at the WHCD was not funny. It was not
effective satire, either. It meandered all over
the place, ending with the usual leftist critique of the reporters who
cover the White House: that, with the exception of
Helen Thomas, they are an uncritical bunch of stenographers who rarely
challenge the administration's line on anything.
... The jokes bombed because the truth in comedy is what makes it funny.
"The lefty bloggers who are now complaining believe that Colbert's critique
of the White House press corps was accurate,
but by and large they also believe that the Bush administration is a
criminal enterprise and that all reporters should be
spouting invective and accusations at press conferences like Helen
Elizabeth Fishman, assistant dean for academic affairs at the Columbia
School of Journalism and a former "60 Minutes"
producer, had a different explanation for the media's favoring of the skit
with Bush and his impersonator. "I thought
some of the things he said were more provocative than what I've
typically seen," she said. "But from working in
television news, the quick hit whether it's morning or evening news shows
is to have the Bush impersonator standing
next to him. It's an easier set up for visual effect."
However, Columbia School of Journalism professor Todd Gitlin begged to
differ. "It's too hot to handle," said Gitlin, who
teaches journalism and sociology. "He was scathing toward Bush and it was
absolutely devastating. They don't know how to
handle such a pointed and aggressive criticism." Gitlin said the criticism
was so harsh that its omission from most major
news outlets made it all the more remarkable.
"I think this is a case of a media who have tiptoed away from the embrace
of the administration and are now reluctant to
take what would seem to them a deeper plunge into the wilderness of
criticism," Gitlin said. "When Bush makes fun of
himself, it's within a very narrow and limited framework. But Colbert's
digs went to some of [Bush's] fundamental
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