Monday, May 01, 2006

Colbert’s devastating satire

Stephen Colbert’s performance at the Washington Correspondents dinner is already legendary. It was delicious satire as has rarely been pulled off for a captive audience at that level of society in Washington.

It was a performance so masterful and struck home so forcefully that it left the Washington elite politicos and media dumbfounded. Some responded indignantly, whining that Colbert had “gone over the line.” Others tried desperately to ignore it the next day like New York Times reporter Elizabeth Bumiller who didn’t even mention Colbert in her story the next day. Absolutely pathetic. That’s like going to a Bruce Springsteen concert and writing your review about the opening act.

If the Washington elite media was anxious to downplay Colbert’s performance, it’s not hard to understand why.
Here is Colbert, in character as the right-wing talkshow host he parodies on his Comedy Central show:

I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story:  the president's side, and the vice president's side.

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!

Ouch!! No wonder Busmiller wanted to ignore Colbert’s tour-de-force performance. It was aimed right at her.

Fortunately, Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post has the best round-up of the story to somewhat make up for the deafening silence and blackout it has recieved elsewhere.

President Bush on Saturday night had the audience at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in stitches. With doppelganger comedian Steve Bridges alongside -- playing his inner self -- Bush poked gentle fun of his own mangling of the English language, his belligerence and his feelings about the media.
Then Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert ripped those stitches out.
Colbert was merciless, reserving his most potent zingers for the people in spitting distance: The president who took the nation to war on false pretenses and the press corps that let him do it.

The boozy bonhomie of the annual event is intended to serve as a balm for the often tense relationship between the White House and the reporters who cover it.
Bush largely delivered on his side of the bargain. Colbert delivered something else entirely.

Colbert stayed in character as the bombastic, over-the-top, right-wing cable TV host he plays on the Colbert Report.
"Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% 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. . . .
"The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday, that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change, this man's beliefs never will...

You can watch the latter half of Colbert’s performance here (Including the video-taped routine with Helen Thomas).
And you can read the entire transcript here.

I think Billmon sums it all up best here.

Colbert's routine was designed to draw blood -- as good political satire should. Colbert used satire the way it's used in more openly authoritarian societies: as a political weapon, a device for raising issues that can't be addressed directly. He dragged out all the unmentionables -- the Iraq lies, the secret prisons, the illegal spying, the neutered stupidity of the lapdog press -- and made it pretty clear that he wasn't really laughing at them, much less with them. It may have been comedy, but it also sounded like a bill of indictment, and everybody understood the charges.

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