Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Who Needs Clothes When a Walking Army of Servants Will Ensconce You?

I'm of two minds about the MSM's stunning silence on Stephen Colbert's dead-pan skewering of the president and the press corp at Saturday's White House Corresponents' Association banquet. I've seen the tapes, and they were indeed painful to watch in parts (mostly because you felt for Colbert when the audience didn't laugh at certain jokes that you know were hilariously true). And I guess one side of me gets why they're not reporting on it: this is an event that they's meant to be an opportunity for them to mingle and bond (press and politicos) in a lighter atmosphere...and if it evolves into a contentious event, its life expectancy becomes limited. I get all that.

What I don't get, however, is why that's more important to the MSM than their supposed raison d'etre: news. Forget that Colbert's was the keynote address of the evening. You can't tell me it's not "news" when the leader of the free world is subjected to as blunt a dressing down as imaginable in any era. What, just because it made them uncomfortable, the media can treat the remarkable event like some dirty little secret? The most powerful person on the planet had a rhetorical cream-filled pie schmushed all over his face. In any context imaginable, that's "news."

There were ways to report this that wouldn't mean the end of the event as well: noting the awkward silence, or simply mentioning who spoke last. Were the press corp so stupified they couldn't find one? Not even The New York Times, the supposed paper of record, mentioned the biggest speech of the evening. Why? Out of shame?

It's one thing to feel that Colbert's critique went too far, that it lacked balance, that it was inappropriate in that context or's another, potentially dangerous thing entirely to pretend it never happened.

For more, see James Wagner.


Anonymous jec said...

You're right--it IS news. I wasn't so much laughing when I saw the video, I was sitting with my jaw dropped. I was stunned (and elated) that Colbert was presenting such a hard-hitting routine, at some points looking right at the President and addressing him directly. It was shocking, really. And I've seen some clips that show crowd response where they were also expressing shock--looks of "oh my God I can't believe he just said that."

Okay, that's enough Colbert blogging for me, now. I've been at it for three days.

5/03/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

I think even for Bush's opponents, it is painful to believe that the country is run by out-and-out crooks, rather than by people with an opposing ideology. Having people of opposing views in office is democracy. Having the country run by crooks is an indictment of everyone. When satire goes too far in revealing the truth, it may be more pleasant to ignore it.

5/03/2006 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colbert's monologue was everything satire should be-- pointed!

It's why he was brilliant and why the film "American Dreamz" is about as funny as day old cool whip.

The beltway press corps are hacks, we know that already when they acted as Bush's cheerleaders in the march toward war. They were absolutely useless and printing anything other than the White House rhetoric verbatim.

5/03/2006 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

Edward_, from the NY Times (a couple of days late, and hidden in the Arts? section):

After Press Dinner, the Blogosphere Is Alive With the Sound of Colbert Chatter

It's funny that they're indirectly covering the Colbert remarks by commenting on the blogosphere's comments of the event. MSM imitates blogs imitates MSM imitates blogs -- gotta love it.

5/03/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Colbert is the Daumier of our era. And his satire certainly exercised the First Amendment in ways I haven't seen since Bush took office.

And I use "truthiness" now, those beliefs we want to be true, whenever I describe the media reports about this president.

5/03/2006 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Edward, I don't really watch much tv, so I didn't know who Colbert was until someone told me about this at a party last night. The transcripts are hilarious (!), especially knowing that Bush was sitting right there next to the podium. Hopefully he had someone with him to explain the jokes.

5/03/2006 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

ml: Colbert is the Daumier of our era.

But I though R. Crumb was supposed to be the 'Daumier of his time.' Now I'm confused.

5/03/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

But I though R. Crumb was supposed to be the 'Daumier of his time'.

I'd heard that Daumier was the new Bob Dylan.

5/03/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Auvi said...

If you haven't seen the video of Colbert's performance, you really should. It's astonishing.

Quicktime + WMP files here

and high-quality video via BitTorrent here

5/03/2006 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

This whole situation should highlight something to those that have been bit by the moral relativism bug and those who tightly cleave to knee jerk anti-American views. (ie the philosophers holding up "Bush is more evil than bin Laden" signs at protest marches). Colbert was ASKED to make this performance to the President of the US. He was tolerated by that President. He was celebrated by many of his fellow citizens. His criticism found a wide range of responses, but none was to be taken out back, shot in the head and dumped in a shallow grave. Our country, for all its faults, is qualitatively different from others and for the better.

5/03/2006 03:03:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

...those who tightly cleave to knee jerk anti-American views

We just returned from 3 weeks in Italy, and the first thing many of our friends asked us when we got back was whether we had experienced any anti-Americanism there. Interestingly, the answer is no. We were there during their elections, and a number of people we talked to expressed their dislike of Bush, as well as their dislike of Berlusconi. We found the Italians, as well as other European travelers we met, to be incredibly warm and friendly people, who were able to easily distinguish between "Americans" and "Republicans".

Despite a close and contested election, the Italians managed to get rid of their right-wing leader. Hopefully we can follow their example.

5/03/2006 04:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever your opinion of the mainstream media or George W. Bush is, Todd W is 100% correct.

I think this discussion says as much about a certain group of people's fixation on George W. Bush as it does about the wimpy ways of the mainstream press. ( I say "yawn" to both.)

5/03/2006 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I get what Todd's saying, but I think there's still a news story being ignored for reasons that don't make me trust the MSM any more than I already do here.

Take GWB out of the equation altogether. Say the president being lampooned had been Clinton. Would the press have covered it? If not, why not?

5/03/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone made fun of George Bush today -- and they did it to his face!

Is this really news?

5/03/2006 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are not to be trusted! This ghastly Bush administration has been incredibly insidious, destructive, arrogant, fearmongering, fascistic, and all the rest--and MSM has been in cahoots all along--Colbert bravely "spoke truth to power" and many people are now freshly emboldened to do the same. Considering what's at stake, to just say "yawn" is pathetic.
The initial non-reaction in the press was a conspiracy of silence hoping to make the whole thing disappear into the same sinkhole that much other incredible recent news has.
Often, radical actions and individuals are superficially tolerated to promote our self-perception of "freedom" and then dealt with differently behind the scenes--- and this story is not over yet. Effectively dissenting voices have been silenced in many ways, some not so obvious, some in ways that can seem stranger than fiction. Does anyone else still wonder about senator Paul Wellstone's eerie plane crash, for instance?

5/03/2006 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

For me it was strange: Colbert's timing seemed ponderous at times, and he didn't 'sell' some of his lines well. But I'm certain from watching him for quite a while that he's skilled in both these areas.

I suspect comedy was secondary to Colbert's intention to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to smack the living daylights out of Bush. Three or four years ago, Colbert might have played it with more of the levity of which he is adroitly capable. But at this point in time the incompetence, the lies and 2,000+ more dead American soldiers, not to mention all the other Bush administration follies -- it's just not funny anymore.

I think Colbert was willing to take the discomfort and its aftermath to more clearly reflect the times.

5/03/2006 06:38:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I haven't had a chance to watch the video clips yet (I'm still at work), but the transcripts of Colbert's routine are a riot. For me this ranks right up there w/ Abbie Hoffman's Wall Street stunt. It's brilliant political theater, carried out in the belly of the beast. I agree w/ Bill Gusky that comedy seems secondary to Colbert's other intentions here.

5/03/2006 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

The blogosphere makes it hard to cover up news stories. And certainly if Paris Hilton can be considered "news" on MSM, then the White House correspondents' dinner is too.

5/03/2006 07:48:00 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

I suspect comedy was secondary to Colbert's intention to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to smack the living daylights out of Bush.

I think that's exactly right. While Colbert did flub some parts (and to be frank, I think he's at his best when Jon Stewart is there to be the straight man), there was no flop sweat on the guy. He was doing what he set out to do.

It should be noted that even when he was going at Bush the hardest, there were still some people laughing in the crowd. They only went truly dead when he lit into the press.

5/03/2006 08:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

I didn't address the "MSM coverup" aspect of Ed's post in my previous comments, so let me touch on that. I'm highly skeptical about the MSM vs vlogosphere meme in general and I don't entirely see that the MSM (man I hate that acronym) as failing in this respect. How the heck did bloggers hear about this thing in the first place? MSM reports, of course.

5/03/2006 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Everything you're saying sounds sane and balanced, Todd. If you don't already subscribe to the Bush-is-getting-a-free-ride meme, then one comedian's coolly received schtick is hardly worthy of front-page headlines, but look at the Times' report:

As the 2,500-plus guests at the annual event know, by tradition the president is supposed to make fun of himself in an effort to establish his regular-guy credentials and ingratiate himself with the press.

They're all over the underlying story here, but no mention of what everyone there was most certainly talking about on the way home. And generally, placing little faith in many other outlets, I see the NYTimes as THE MSM, so when they seem to turn a blind eye to the tough critique and offer up a fluff piece instead, I can't help but feel a little less trust for them.

The Times has already plead mea culpa to not asking tough enough questions about the build-up to Iraq...for those of us marching up the avenues and screaming across the blogosphere that the invasion was a horribly unjustified idea, it's hard to feel that balance has any value at this current place and time. I know that's a double-edged sword, but I've watched this administration treat any bipartisan attempts at extending an olive branch as a license to shove the nation even harder toward the right. In a nutshell, they're not trustworthy in the slightest, and watching Colbert call them on all the spin seemed like a watershed moment in this it's very, very hard to accept that it wasn't was, as you note, all over the blogs...but not (until after the blogs raised the issue of the deafening silence) in the paper of record...and I've yet to see it mentioned on the evening news. Again, this was not someone simply making fun of the president...this was a critic looking him in the face and telling him he wasn't fooling nearly as many people as he thinks he is, with cameras rolling.

Yes, I get that Bush isn't Hitler, and the wingnuts suggesting he is lose the middle, but the danger of his widening the powers the president has and weakening the checks and balances isn't only that his pals in the oil industry will get ever stinkingly richer, but that once this puppet leaves office someone truly evil might take his place. The fore-fathers knew a time might come when someone dangerously disreputable (not merely an incompetent cronyist) got elected, and put protections in place. This POTUS can't see beyond his own term in office. Maybe he knows more about global warming than he's letting on.

5/03/2006 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares if we "lose the Middle"? Fuck the Middle. What has the Middle done for you lately?

5/04/2006 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The middle tips elections Anonymous. The middle, unless you're a communist or fascist, also represents YOU on certain issues, I'd assume.

The system was never designed to pull too far either direction, but rather to slowly evolve, sort of back and forth. It's good that way. Checks and balances are good, including the general digust the middle has for either's good, believe me. That doesn't mean you have to be The Middle...I'm certainly not. But it does mean you should respect The Middle...and The Right...for the role they play in the overall system. (Just so long as you remember that "respect" sometimes comes in the form of a long overdue dressing down.)

5/04/2006 08:36:00 AM  
Anonymous jec said...

Todd asked:

How the heck did bloggers hear about this thing in the first place? MSM reports, of course.

cspan. Hardly MSM. The word spread on the blogs from there.

5/04/2006 09:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that those worries about alienating the middle spring from the same spot as the loathesome fear you wrote about so eloquently in a previous post, and don't those worries also come from the same spot as the reprehensible timidity the mainstream media has displayed for the past few years-- the fears of seeming unpatriotic, of seeming traitorously against the president in times of war, of being unsupportive of our troops, of appearing to be in favor of the terrorists, of being against "freedom" --all of which lead to the really big fear of becoming a social Untouchable--these seem to me to have repesented the middle way of the American public lately.
Simply equating Bush with Hitler is sophomoric and going too far, but showing that there are strong parallels with previous fascitic points in history--like the Dada article you've cited points out--and suggesting it again and again, in as many creative ways as people can dream up, seems to be a responsibility of artists these days, as artists are one group who represent true freedom of thought to many of those hiding out in the middle.
It will frighten the middle, just like all attitude-changing activisms have frightened the middle. But these are really truly dangerous times. How Hitler's Germany evolved is really much more comprehensible to me now than it was even ten years ago--because we see before our very eyes the somnambulistic complicity of the vast middle public in so many outrageous acts against others in the world by our own goverment.
I know you agree with most of this but I just had to say it.

5/04/2006 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't see "The Middle" as "other," though, Anonymous. I don't really even see The Right as other. I see them as folks at different points in their own personal journey, just like I am.

The media and the government, on the other hand, are different in that their role is not in flux, as is mine or somone's in the Middle or Right. They have standards to uphold. Standards both are not meeting, in my opinion. Although I'm hard pressed to point to any time when they did so across the board, we do have examples of excellence in both that set the bar higher than is being met now.

The thing is, the rise of the blogosphere took a hell of a lot of work from a lot of people. They wouldn't have done that work if the "reality" they read in the media matched what they saw in their day-to-day lives. The blogosphere emerged from frustration. I recall being able to piece together from the stories buried on page 13 of the Times that the case for WMD in Iraq being an imminent threat was far too weak to justify an invasion. Too many CIA analysts and diplomats were questioning it, but the freakin' headlines on the front page didn't convey that skepticism...the Times marched us to war, Judith Miller out front, waving the flag, as if a tool of the administration. It sickens me still to think about it.

So they have to re-earn my trust, and each and every time they let me down, like they have with the Colbert sketch, I'm gonna hammer them for it. You get the media you demand. And so I'm demanding a better one.

5/04/2006 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apropos your 1st point--it's true--we all individually contain a "middle" and a "right" to some degree--even if you just look at it in terms of the milieu in which we were each brought up--and I just read your thing about purple art--somehow the work must acknowledge this bundle of contradictions to go deeper than a one-liner. Do you have a couple of examples of visual art that you think succeed on this level?

5/04/2006 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

After a little Google News research, it does appear that the initial reportage from the mainline news outlets focused more on the President's own performance with a lookalike than Colbert's monologue. Colbert is mentioned only briefly in many of the day-after reporting.

Beyond this event, I have previously found that comparing CSPAN footage of a Congressional hearing or what have you with the "report of record" leaves me scratching my head as to whether the by-lined reporters were even present.

5/06/2006 10:55:00 AM  

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