Traditional media miss the mark on Colbert speech

ON BLOGS

May 07, 2006|By TROY MCCULLOUGH | TROY MCCULLOUGH,SUN COLUMNIST

Stephen Colbert made news last weekend at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, but it took most of the hundreds of journalists in the room a few days to figure it out.

Bloggers weren't so slow to react.

Colbert's keynote performance in front of the crowd of celebrities, politicians, media types, and the president, was jarring. Playing the role of the bombastic conservative cable news pundit from his Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, the comedian went after Bush for several minutes.

Standing just a few feet from the president, Colbert targeted Bush's plummeting poll numbers ("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"), Bush's troubled Iraq policy ("I believe that the government that governs best is the government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq") and the president's "unwavering" leadership style ("He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday").

The crowd at the chummy annual Beltway banquet appeared unprepared for Colbert's assault. The comedian drew muted laughter through most of his schtick, and the president appeared to grow less amused by the minute.

But before the weekend was out, Colbert was being hailed as a hero by the left and scorned as contemptible by the right.

"Colbert's routine was designed to draw blood - as good political satire should. ... White House elites clearly aren't used to having such contempt thrown in their faces at one of their most cherished self-congratulatory events," wrote Billmon.org.

"It was remarkable, though painful at times, to watch. It may also have been the first time that anyone has been this blunt with this President," reported Daily Kos (dailykos.org).

A new site popped up, thankyoustephencolbert.org, gleefully labeling Colbert as "the Edward R. Murrow of our day" - and by Monday, thousands of supporters had posted comments.

Others were less complimentary. In a post titled "Being Rude to the President and his Wife is no Joke," political science professor Stanley Renshon wrote on his blog, politicalpsychology.blogspot.com: "The Bush material was egregiously harsh, partisan, and tasteless." Many on the right attempted to explain just how unfunny Colbert's monologue was, yet few could resist commenting on it. Indeed, there appeared to be nearly as much buzz among conservatives as there was among liberals.

Online, the story was unavoidable, but in print, it barely registered.

The initial reports from the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times and The Washington Post largely overlooked Colbert's speech and chose to focus on the more politically palatable humor of the night: The president in a predictably self-deprecating skit with a Bush impersonator.

The sluggish media response drew exasperation from Peter Daou on the Huffington Post: "Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media."

By midweek, the traditional press had finally caught on to the story bubbling under their noses, offering several articles and op-ed pieces dissecting Colbert's performance.

But for even the most casual of blog readers, it was old news by then.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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