Peter Daou has already addressed this issue today in his excellent piece on the Huffington Post called "Ignoring Colbert: A Small Taste of the Media's Power to Choose the News."
However, I woke enraged on this topic before I read Daou's piece, so I wanted to add my two cents. (And I include a full transcript of Colbert's remarks at the bottom of this entry, so scroll down if you want to see it right away.)
Stephen Colbert was the star attraction at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night, and his performance was thrilling or insulting or uncomfortable, depending on your point of view. Apparently, according to Editor and Publisher.com, President and Mrs. Bush looked very uncomfortable, and quickly left right afterward.
But the mainstream media is apparently ignoring this part of the evening, and instead is covering the early entertainment where Bush and a look-alike imitator do a "he says this, he's really thinking this" routine. Moderately amusing, but very mild.
This, by the way, is the same Washington event where Bush previously charmed many (and horrified others) by pretending to have trouble finding Weapons of Mass Destruction (after we'd started to realize they weren't in Iraq), and wandered the room looking under tables. Really cute, huh? They should send videos of that to the families of soldiers killed.
The media's ignoring Colbert's effect at the White House Correspondents Dinner is a very clear example of what others have called the media's penchant for buying into the conservative/rightwing "narrative."
In this instance, the "narrative" is that President Bush, for all his missteps, has a darling sense of humor and is a real regular guy, able to poke delightful fun at himself and his penchant for mis-using and mispronouncing words.
Who cares if he lied to start a war? (Or chose to ignore all contrary opinion, which as far as war-starting goes, is pretty crummy.) Who cares if he declares he's above the law, and according to the Boston Globe yesterday there are something like 750 laws he's decided don't apply to him as "Commander-in-Chief"?
The Globe article's first sentence: "President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution."
If the President doesn't obey the law, what the heck is he? He's a dictator in a coup, I think -- but no matter, according to the media, he's A-DOR-ABLE!
Meanwhile, at this Correspondents White House Dinner, the star attraction of the evening -- the last person to perform (of a small group) and whose act went on for about 20 minutes -- is Stephen Colbert. Yesterday the blogs were a-buzz with how shocking his remarks were. In his comic persona of Bush Supporter Nonpareil, Colbert stood on the dais near the President and kept making eye contact with him as he said truly biting comic remarks.
I found two sites that showed clips from Colbert's performance. This one (at Crooks and Liars) has most of the act, though it's missing the beginning.
It's insane journalism not to write about Colbert's appearance. It's the main event. Like it or hate it, it's the thing to talk about. You have to CHOOSE to focus on the lightweight entertainment that preceded it.
The right wing blogs are saying Colbert bombed, and in some ways that's not wrong, the gathered audience wanted and expected something lighter - but that's what makes the appearance so startling. It's very witty when you read the text; but actuality as Colbert says these things to the President's face, it's very uncomfortable. Watching it, It's like Hamlet forcing King Claudius to watch the play that accuses him of murder. Or it's like a man asked to be Court Jester who shows up and tells the king exactly what's wrong with him, and gets out of the building before they can behead him. (Why do I keep having "king" examples, lol. No reason, I'm sure.)
Colbert's was a brave and shocking performance. And for the media to pretend it isn't newsworthy is a total bafflement. And a symbol of how shoddy and suspect the media is.
(And a truly interesting news question - who chose the biting Colbert to be the entertainment? And are they now in trouble?)
This morning, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer giggled and got all warm about the cutesy performance of Bush and the Twin look-alike imitator. Really funsy. Colbert was not mentioned.
I'm old enough to remember when Eartha Kitt told off Lady Byrd Johnson for her husband's policies in Vietnam at some innocent luncheon... the news media reported that, they didn't only report on the chicken salad sandwiches.
Yesterday the New York Times had no coverage of the event, except buried in its Washington section was a small, uninteresting blurb picked up from Reuters.
This morning, lo and behold, they have more... a fawning piece by someone named Elizabeth Bumiller called "At Award Correspondents' Dinner, A Set of Bush Twins Steal the Show."
Like Katie and Matt's briefer piece, this article too finds the President absolutely adorable. And makes the judgment call that the President's darling sense of humor is the true story of the event.
And the Colbert appearance -- which chilled the room, attacking journalists as well as Bush -- is literally not worth reporting. Back before blogs and C-Span, we wouldn't even know about it.
The Times piece also has a video clip, which features Bush and the Twin, but at the tail end includes Colbert, saying he was biting, but then quotes one of his milder jabs (making fun of the Iraqis' troubles putting together a government). (To find you must click on "video report" under "Washington Letter.")
I suppose I can be dismissed as a conspiracy type, but if Ohio was stolen in the last election (which I think it was), and if more and more computer voting is put into place with NO PAPER RECORD (Democrats, wake up on this one please, please, please), and if Matt and Katie and other media people keep feeding us the Conservative Narrative on and on, then our democracy is over. (Some say it's already over.) McCain has been taken over like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" -- he too now finds Bush adorable. I keep having hopes for Arlen Specter, he seems truly upset by Bush breaking the law to allow warrantless wiretapping. But will he have the courage and stamina to keep fighting?
Well I'm talking myself into a gloomy corner, so let me stop, and reprint the full Colbert speech, which I found at this link.
Tell me if you don't think it's newsworthy he said all this IN FRONT OF THE PRESIDENT:
"Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Before I begin, I've been asked to make an announcement. Whoever parked 14 black bullet proof S.U.V.'S out front, could you please move them. They are blocking in 14 other black bulletproof S.U.V.'S and they need to get out.
Wow, wow, what an honor. The White House Correspondents' Dinner. To just sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what, I'm a pretty sound sleeper, that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face.
Is he really not here tonight? The one guy who could have helped. By the way, before I get started, if anybody needs anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly on into your table numbers and somebody from the N.S.A. Will be right over with a cocktail.
Mrs. Smith, ladies and gentlemen of the press corps, Mr. President and first lady, my name is Stephen Colbert and it's my privilege tonight to celebrate our president. He's no so different, he and I. We get it. We're not brain backs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the fact (police). We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say I did look it up, and that's not true. That's but you looked it up in a book.
Next time look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works. Every night on my show, the Colbert report, I speak straight from the gut, ok? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the no fact zone. Fox News, I own the copyright on that term.
I'm a simple man with a simple mind, with a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists.
My gut tells me I live there. I feel that it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I strongly believe it has 50 states. And I cannot wait to see how "the Washington Post" spins that one tomorrow. I believe in democracy. I believe democracy is our greatest export. At least until China figures out a way to stamp it out in plastic for three cents a unit.
In fact, ambassador, welcome, your great country makes our happy meals possible. I said it's a celebration. I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.
I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible -- I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical. And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be it Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe our infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it's yogurt. But I refuse to believe it's not butter. Most of all I believe in this president.
Now, I know there's 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.
So, Mr. President, pay no attention to the people that say the glass is half full. 32% means the glass -- it's important to set up your jokes properly, sir. Sir pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it's 2/3 empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash.
Folks, my point is that I don't believe this is a low point in this presidency. I believe it is just a lull, before a comeback.
I mean, it's like the movie "Rocky." The president is Rocky and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world. It's the 10th round. He's bloodied, his corner man, Mick, who in this case would be the Vice President, and he's yelling cut me, dick, cut me, and every time he falls she say stay down! Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky he gets back up and in the end he -- actually loses in the first movie. Ok. It doesn't matter.
The point is the heart-warming story of a man who was repeatedly punched in the face. So don't pay attention to the approval ratings that say 68% of Americans disapprove of the job this man is doing. I ask you this, does that not also logically mean that 68% approve of the job he's not doing? Think about it. I haven't.
I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands 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.
Now, there may be an energy crisis. This president has a very forward-thinking energy policy. Why do you think he's down on the ranch cutting that brush all the time? He's trying to create an alternative energy source. By 2008 we will have a mesquite powered car.
And I just like the guy. He's a good joe. Obviously loves his wife, calls her his better half. And polls show America agrees. She's a true lady and a wonderful woman. But I just have one beef, ma'am. I'm sorry, but this reading initiative. I've never been a fan of books. I don't trust them. They're all fact, no heart. I mean, they're elitist telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen. What's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was built in 1914. If I want to say it was built in 1941, that's my right as an American. I'm with the president, let history decide what did or did not happen.
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.
And as excited as I am to be here with the president, 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 N.S.A. wiretapping or secret prisons in Eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason, they're superdepressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished.
Over the last five years you people were so good over tax cuts, W.M.D. intelligence, the affect 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. Put them 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.
Because really, 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. Then you write 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 Hindenburg.
Now, it's not all bad guys out there. Some heroes, Buckley, Kim Schieffer. By the way, Mr. President, thank you for agreeing to be on my show. I was just as shocked as everyone here is I promise you. How is Tuesday for you? I've got Frank Rich, but we can bump him.
And I mean bump him. I know a guy. Say the word.
See who we've got here tonight. General Mowsly, Air Force Chief of Staff. General Peter Pace. They still support Rumsfeld. You guys aren't retired yet, right? Right, they still support Rumsfeld.
Look, by the way, I've got a theory about how to handle these retired generals causing all this trouble, don't let them retire. C'mon, we've got a stop loss program, let's use it on these guys. If you're strong enough to go on one of those pundit shows, you can stand on a bank of computers and order men into battle. C'mon.
Jesse Jackson is here. I had him on the show. Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he's going to say what he wants at the pace that he wants. It's like boxing a glacier.
Enjoy that metaphor, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.
Justice Scalia's here. May I be the first to say welcome, sir. You look fantastic. How are you? (imitates hostile gestures Scalia was reported to have made)
John McCain is here. John McCain John McCain. What a maverick. Somebody find out what fork he used on his salad, because I guarantee you wasn't a salad fork. He could have used a spoon. There's no predicting him. So wonderful to see you coming back into the republican fold. I have a summerhouse in South Carolina, look me up when you go to speak at Bob Jones University. So glad you've seen the light.
Mayor Nagin is here from New Orleans, the chocolate city. Yeah, give it up. Mayor Nagin, I would like to welcome you to Washington, D.C., The chocolate city with a marshmallow center. And a graham cracker crust of corruption. It's a mallomar is what I'm describing, a seasonal cookie.
Joe Wilson is here, the most famous husband since Desi Arnez. And of course he brought along his lovely wife Valerie Plame. Oh, my god! Oh, what have I said. I am sorry, Mr. President, I meant to say he brought along his lovely wife, Joe Wilson's wife. Pat Fitzgerald is not here tonight? Dodged a bullet.
And we can't forget man of the hour, new Press Secretary, Tony Snow. Secret service name, Snow Job. What a hero, took the second toughest job in government, next to, of course, the ambassador to Iraq. Got some big shoes to fill, Tony. Scott McClellan could say nothing like nobody else.
McClellan, eager to retire. Really felt like he needed to spend more time with Andrew Card's children.
Mr. President, I wish you hadn't made the decision so quickly, sir. I was vying for the job. I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary. I have nothing but contempt for these people. I know how to handle these clowns. In fact, sir, I brought along an audition tape and with your indulgence, I'd like to at least give it a shot. So, ladies and gentlemen, my press conference. "
(Note: A video section followed with Colbert sparring with reporters and eventually running away from journalist Helen Thomas. It's included in the Crooks and Liars link above.)