Long, bitter experience — and long, bitter comments at this blog — have taught us that if there’s anything conservatives hate more than Big Gummint and homosexuals, it’s someone making fun of them. The outrage that Boss Tweed expressed over “them damned pictures” of himself drawn by Thomas Nast is as nothing compared to that of your typical right-winger who suspects he, or his idol, has been mocked.
So the moment it was announced that TV satirist Stephen Colbert would be testifying before Congress on behalf of a migrant farm workers’ rights bill, rightbloggers soared to the highest of dudgeons. How dare this comedian sully the seriousness of a legislature where Michele Bachmann hoped to be joined by Christine O’Donnell? Had he no sense of decorum?
In this cause, rightbloggers received some extra help from big-time media outlets who may have their own reasons for wanting Colbert and people like him out of the picture.
Now, bear in mind, it’s not as if performers and personalities haven’t appeared on Capitol Hill before. Who can forget, for example, TV puppeteer Shari Lewis’ 1993 testimony before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the matter of children’s television?
Our favorite part of that gig: The “statement of Lamb Chop” — one of Lewis’ puppets — which was entered into the Congressional Record. (“MS. LEWIS: All right. Go ahead. Speak from your little lamb heart. LAMB CHOP: I can’t do it with you sitting there. Go away. MS. LEWIS: No, darling, I can’t go away. If I am not here, you can’t talk at all.” If only conversations between Congressmen and lobbyists were so faithfully recorded! )
Older readers may also recall the memorable PMRC Senate hearings of 1985. More recently we’ve had Jennie Garth (Beverly Hills 90120) on children’s nutrition, Michelle Yeoh on global road deaths, etc.
Sigh, good times. But when Colbert was scheduled to appear, rightbloggers and their allies acted as if he were planning to throw props and confetti like Rip Taylor in his prime.
Fox News got the outrage rolling early. “The idea that we’re going to waste our taxpayer dollars for this guy to go up on Capitol Hill,” cried Fox & Friends spokesmodel Gretchen Carlson, “and we’re supposed to sit here and take that?”
(Unfortunately and unusually for Carlson, her target in this instance has his own TV show, where he showed a clip of her grousing and told her, “No, you’re supposed to sit there and blow it out of proportion — read your contract!”)
The Ogden, Utah Standard-Examiner warned that “Congressional hearings will jump the shark if Colbert testifies in character” because “taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for a comedian wanting to use Congress… to enhance his career.” (Somewhere, former Congressional witness and current radio talk-show star Oliver North is laughing his ass off.)
Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller reported that “some Republicans have already expressed unhappiness with Colbert witnessing at the hearing, thinking it would make light of a serious issue” (presumably meaning, it would make light of the GOP position on a serious issue).
Eventually Colbert did his thing in his traditional character — that of a blowhard cable clone in the manner of Bill O’Reilly and Larry Kudlow. He initially received some static from Rep. John Conyers, who tried to prevent his testimony, asking that it be entered into the record without his speaking it aloud. But at committee chairman Zoe Lofgren’s insistence, Colbert was eventually allowed to present. His testimony, taken from C-Span 3 coverage, may be seen on YouTube:
Rightbloggers thereupon switched from being outrageously outraged at the outrage to characterizing Colbert’s appearance as a failure — based not on anything like evidence, in the traditional sense, but on the bare assertions of themselves and other rightbloggers.
“Colbert embarrasses Dems,” announced Byron York. Unable to pretend that people hadn’t laughed at Colbert’s testimony, York described their laughter as “pained,” which you have to admit shows creativity.
York also claimed there were “number of strange and awkward moments” in the presentation, “ones that could come back to some of the Democrats on the panel in the campaign ahead.” York declined to describe these moments or to say how they might “come back” to the candidates. Maybe he got a sneak peek at related, spontaneous Tea Party signage for October. (Later York’s paper, the Examiner, followed up: “Colbert wore makeup to hearing“!)
York’s column was all the back-up the perpetually enraged Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit needed. “Confirmed,” he roared, linking to York. “Colbert House Hearing an Embarrassment.” He elaborated: “DC Is a Circus — Dems Invite Clown Stephen Colbert to Testify & Mock Immigration Law… after trashing the economy and ramming through their radical agenda Democrats are now openly mocking Americans by inviting leftist comedians,” argh blargh etc.
“An absolute disgrace,” said Freedom Eden. “Dems’ Trained Clown Trotted Out to Distract From Obama DOJ Scandal,” said John Nolte at Big Hollywood. “COLBERT ESCORTED OUT OF HOUSE BY SEVEN ARMED-GUARDS,” roared Breitbart.tv over footage of Colbert and Capitol Police officers walking out of the hearing, perhaps hoping to give the impression that Colbert had been forcibly ejected for his crimes against seriousness.
Roz Zurko, “Hartford Pop Culture Examiner,” said “even the viewers at home almost felt embarrassed for [Colbert] as he started on with his very unprofessional jokes.” She didn’t provide any quotes from these “viewers at home,” presumably saving them for a big follow-up feature, which we look forward to reading.
Rather than applaud Conyers for pushing back against Colbert, rightbloggers heaped abuse on him, too. Conyers “[wound] up embarrassing the committee even further than anyone could have predicted,” claimed Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey. And they wonder why nobody tries to help them!
Nolte’s colleague at Big Hollywood, Publius, said that instead of playing attention to “Steve Colbert’s stand-up routine,” people should turn their attention to the New Black Panthers case that rightbloggers have been pushing since the 2008 election. Instapundit agreed, and went Publius one paranoid delusion better by quoting a “reader” who asked, “Does it seem just too big a coincidence that Stephen Colbert is testifying on Friday, the same day that Christopher Coates is scheduled to testify on the Black Panther case?” Later, Instapundit wrote, “If so, it’s worked.” If you had sunny weather this weekend, that, too, may have been part of the plan. (Or rainy weather! These Dems are tricky!)
Republican politicians reliably denounced the appearance. As for Democratic politicians, those who went on record, like Nancy Pelosi, mostly favored it. But stories were circulated that other big Democrats were displeased with Colbert.
That these allegedly dissenting Dems mostly went unnamed will not surprise our regular readers. But some of you may be surprised to learn that these stories were also spread by major media outlets which are usually called “liberal” by rightbloggers.
Politico helped pump the Outrage with stories like “Colbert knocks Dems off message.” Reporter Jonathan Allen characterized the hearing as “the day the Colbert Circus came to Congress” and claimed “he bombed with political strategists and analysts in both parties.” In support of this assertion he quoted exactly one liberal columnist — Mother Jones‘ David Corn — along with Rep. Conyers and Blue Dog Dem Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee. Patrick Gavin, also at Politico, wrote, “COLBERT ‘MADE MOCKERY’ OF CONGRESS” — based on tweets from other journalists. (The descriptor in the URL literally reads “reporters_not_amused_by_colbert.html.”)
MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said, “silly season… gone to a level I don’t think any of us ever thought… a lot of us frankly are offended,” and a bunch of other bullshit we don’t have the patience to be polite about. At the Wall Street Journal, Danny Yadron claimed, “Colbert Irks Some Lawmakers” — but only quoted Republican Rep. Lamar Smith. The Boston Herald‘s Jessica Heslam headlined, “Stephen Colbert’s Congress visit called ‘sad commentary'”; if (like few Hearld buyers) you read further, this turned out to be a quote from a BU advertising professor.
A blogger for Forbes wrote that “these jokes, funny as they are, seem absurd.” And what greater condemnation of humor can one imagine than that?
Why did the MSM — which, Sarah Palin and a million rightbloggers regularly tell us, is nefariously liberal — give Colbert’s defense of a liberal cause such negative reviews? Jeff Cohen at the Huffington Post suggested that some political reporters are still pissed at Colbert for calling them out so harshly with his withering comments at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner.
That’s believable. Anyone who’s ever watched pundits chortling at each other around a Sunday roundtable will find it easy to imagine that they might be jealous that some comedian is getting big laughs from real people by going much, much further in his mockery of Washington than they would ever dare to go.
We think there may be another dimension to their disapproval. Last year Ohio State did a study of viewers’ reactions to the satire of The Colbert Report. They found that, while both liberals and conservatives found Colbert funny, “conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said, while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.”
Why, your average fence-straddling politico (or Politico) would kill for such a politically ambidextrous position, with both liberals and conservatives believing what he said was flattering to their side! That Colbert would abandon this pretense of neutrality to actually stick up for a cause he believes in goes against everything that they believe in — that is to say, nothing but their own privileged position in the D.C. journalistic firmament, and desirability of maintaining it at all costs. It has to make them feel like little Salieris in the presence of an Amadeus. No wonder they’re so quick to tell the world that — Sources Say! No Questions Remain! — Colbert was a failure. Their pride, such as it is, demands nothing less.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 27, 2010