When I was political editor at National Lampoon, I was told that one of the prerequisites of good satire was that the reader might read it, thinking, "This might be true." With this White House, it's "There is no way this could be true." But, it has been.
"Failed Arabian Horse Consultant Chosen To Run FEMA."
"Twenty-four Year Old College Dropout Approved by White House to Rewrite Government Scientist's Research"
"Texas Sheriff Sees No Reason To Question Vice President Who Drank A Beer Then Shot a Guy in the Face"
Now, the this new and shiny revamped White House has ramped up the satire stakes.
"They Want Funny? We'll Give Them Funny!" White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolton, must have whispered to his clearly peeved boss as they scooted out of last week's the Press Jokefest.
You didn't think the Bush Administration would sit still over Steven Colbert's White House Correspondent's Gala speech, did you? Not with the satirist fist of Bolton at the helm. It's out with Karl Rovian outings of covert wives and in with the, um, innings of the Onion.
They started slow. To add gravitas to the White House message, they replaced spokesman Scott McClellan, who never understood the subtleties of satire as you only needed to quote him for a laugh, and gave the job to former Fox Newser Tony Snow. Not great, but still...funny.
Then my guess is, they hired former Saturday Nite Live scribe, Alan Zweibel to write the side-splitting SNL sketch where Steve Bridges, played by President Bush, threw kudos at the newly resigned CIA Chief Porter Goss for doing such a wonderful job that he was being fired.
But last week they showed they mean (funny) business as they have rewritten political satire history, basically putting Colbert, Jon Stewart and the Onion out of business by supplying them with material that is impervious to lampoon.
Now, before you read the following, understand that...
I did not make this up. Fact is, I had to reread it any number of times to see if it was in actuality a covert WhiteHouse.org (an online spoof of the White House site, site) piece, or in the least, a mistake. Checking the tapes, I was reminded that President Bush never makes a mistake. And WhiteHouse.org could only dream of coming up with this gag...that, I swear, is not a gag.
Last week, a number of employees at the Department of Agriculture received an e-mail detailing how the DOA - the department that deals with gardening - should include in every speech that, wait for it...wait for it...
Checkmate, Mr Colbert.
To be precise, the memo read...
"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches..."
Excuse me while I pick up the pieces of my suddenly busted gut.
Beating satirists ready to exploit what could only be God-given set-up to the punch, the memo subtly introduced how DOA stand-ups might embed the talking points.
"Several topics I'd like to talk about today," began the e-mail, " farm bill, trade with Japan, WTO, avian flu -- but before I do, let me touch on a subject people always ask about -- progress in Iraq."
What? No mention of 9/11? Still, it cuts the legs from under the usual suspects who might want to parody this White House. Chief Agriculturalist Correspondent, Rob Corddry of The Daily Show might have tried. "Hi, I'm from the Department of Agriculture but before I talk about agriculture, we will stand down when Iraqi farmers stand up."
See, you can't improve on perfection.
Click here for full context of the memo.
What's clearly intended in this brilliant piece of truism is a message to Mssr. Colbert. You mess with this White House, you're messin' with losing your career. No joke. Well, maybe a small one.
Steve Young is author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful."