Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" was amazing at the White House Correspondent Association Dinner Saturday night. If you haven't seen it yet, links to the videos can be found here. As I watched it last night on C-Span, I was struck by a couple things: 1) Colbert's guts and his vicious intelligence and 2) the White House Press Corps' comfort level with how close they are to the administration and with the status quo of Beltway reporting. Oh, they make noise about how this is the worst administration in history in terms of being open with the press. And I'm sure a few even really feel that way. But the standing ovation and roaring laughter at Bush making fun of himself (he had a schtick w/ a double who was relaying Bush's "real" thoughts) was sick to watch. I'm all for laughter and taking a good laugh at oneself. It's important to remember humor with all the serious things we encounter everyday. But this is different. They have helped the Bush administration make and keep the barriers around public knowledge. (I don't even need to name some of these issues - Colbert did it for me. And they're listed below.) I just can't handle people who should know more about this man than anyone else, but laugh with him as he makes ANOTHER joke about how he can't pronounce nuclear and takes a potshot at Dick Cheney - when thousands and thousands of people have died because of this man's actions, decisions or lack of decisions (take Katrina, for instance.) And boy, they turned mightly serious and overtly uncomfortable when Colbert took the stage and began to skewer not only the president, the press corp, but most of all, their beloved status quo. One of the first reactions and summaries can be found at Editor and Publisher. But here are a couple choice quotes. On Iraq: I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq." And here's where he took the press corp to the carpet. "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, ah, 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 the decisions - he's the decider. The Press Secretary announces those decisions, and you people, the press, type those decisions down. Make, announce, check. 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 kickin' 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! Because really, what, what, what incentive do these people have to answer your questions after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So… the White House has personnel changes. And then you write 'Oh they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.' First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking! This administration is soaring! If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenberg. I'm looking for a more complete transcript, but can't find it yet. I'll update the ITT List when I can find one. But one last thought - let's thank Stephen Colbert. He's going to get a lof of crap from the mainstream press and the right-wing noise machine, which combined, can be overwhelming. When the mainsteam press goes after Colbert - email them, call them, write them and let them know that you appreciate Colbert's guts. Email or contact Comedy Central - don't let outside pressure curb Colbert. What he did was not only right, it was brave. And we support bravery in America, right?
Tracy Van Slyke, a former publisher of In These Times, is the project director for The Media Consortium.