Colbert Speaks Truthiness
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Stephen Colbert: New American Hero
By Don Hazen, AlterNet
Posted on May 9, 2006, Printed on May 10, 2006
Virtually overnight, Stephen Colbert became a hero to countless Americans, following his April 30 performance at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
Since then, millions of people have either watched the video or read the transcript of his skewering of both the president and the press corps, and have discussed it avidly. Tens of thousands of people have gone to the website ThankYouStephenColbert.com and written letters of appreciation. Talk about water-cooler chatter; the event crashed internet servers across the land. It truly was one of those moments of media shock and delight.
And then, an odd but revealing thing happened. Some of the chattering class commentators, mainstream media writers and columnists, and Democratic officials didn't get it: Not very funny, rude, not respectful of the president, and so on.
Are they kidding?
How could they not understand they were witnessing one of the bravest, most subversive performances in memory, which thrilled and gave hope to untold viewers and readers, and will be a huge marker when people look back on the Bush era?
Colbert's speech had a huge impact for two reasons: First, he spoke truth to power right to the face of the president, in front of the entire news media. No one could miss, sidestep or deny it. It wasn't a scene from a movie, book or talk show -- it was live. It reminded me of Edward R. Murrow's famous address to the Radio and Television News Directors Association (recently depicted in the film "Good Night and Good Luck"). It gave me goose bumps.
Colbert's performance shamed every Democrat or columnist who has been too afraid, too timid, or just too worried about losing his or her own power and access to go out on a limb and tell the truth that this administration is a disaster beyond our wildest nightmares.
Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rove have gotten away with murder … and worse. And many of the people in that room that night who squirmed in their seats -- it was in part because of the internal indictment they were feeling for not doing what they should have done, countless times, long before.
Maybe now they will do the right thing, but I won't be holding my breath.
The second reason Colbert made such a huge splash is the rapid advance of video on the web. Almost overnight, the media world has irrevocably changed as video is increasingly becoming as important as print and still images on the web. When, in a matter of hours, dozens of websites can post or link to a video and get the word out about a spectacular event, the role of the gatekeepers and the corporate media shrinks big-time. And it doesn't matter if the networks or CNN or Fox decides that they don't want you to see it -- they can't stop it. The people's network is now in working order. Progressives now have a television capacity; still rudimentary, perhaps, but powerfully effective.
The press leaks
The press coverage of the Colbert performance was illuminating, as reported by the popular blog, democratic underground:
"Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. This demonstrates powerfully the ability of the media to choose the news, and to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity.
Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission.
"The AP's first stab at it, as well as Reuters and the Chicago Tribune, tell us everything we need to know: In these reports, Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized, while President Bush is depicted as lighthearted, humble and witty."
Salon's Joan Walsh points out, "Colbert's deadly performance did more than reveal, with devastating clarity, how Bush's well-oiled myth machine works. It exposed the mainstream press' pathetic collusion with an administration that has treated it -- and the truth -- with contempt from the moment it took office. Intimidated, coddled, fearful of violating propriety, the press corps that for years dutifully repeated Bush talking points was stunned and horrified when someone dared to reveal that the media emperor had no clothes. Colbert refused to play his dutiful, toothless part in the White House correspondents' dinner -- an incestuous, backslapping ritual that should be retired. For that, he had to be marginalized. Voilà: 'He wasn't funny.'"
On the Democratic political front, as John Aravosis wrote on AmericaBlog, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., actually stepped up to defend President Bush, saying, according to The Hill:
"I thought some of it was funny, but I think it got a little rough … He is the president of the United States, and he deserves some respect."
"I'm certainly not a defender of the administration," Hoyer reassured stunned observers, but Colbert "crossed the line" with many jokes that were "in bad taste."
Criticizing Colbert for being rude would be pretty funny if it weren't so depressing. Rude? Since when has politics in this administration used the Marquis of Queensbury rules? Is Dick Cheney sweet and accommodating? When, in their march to power, has the right wing had good manners -- about abortion or gay marriage, or in the push for invading Iraq? Sure, mention decorum and one thinks immediately of Karl Rove, of Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, of Jerry Falwell blaming America's bad morals for 9/11.
The fact is, Stephen Colbert is at the acme of rising independent voices -- in the blogosphere, on the internet, in publishing and independent filmmaking -- who are being aggressive and playing hardball the way the right does. And guess what? The establishment is getting nervous. The powers-that-be know that people respond to passion, anger and resistance, emotions that convey meaning and seriousness, and the will to fight hard for important issues.
In a smaller way, but showing similar guts, Cindy Sheehan spoke truth by traveling to Texas and demanding that the president explain, please, just what "noble cause" her son died for. Ray McGovern did it recently when he publicly challenged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Atlanta, and so did Harry Taylor, the man who confronted George W. Bush at a town meeting in North Carolina.
Perhaps the most important lesson we have learned from the divisions laid bare by Stephen Colbert is that the big split isn't so much between Democrats and Republicans or between the media and the people and events they cover, but rather between the powerful and the angry, between those basking in power and those fighting for change.
The kiss-ass media, the revolving-door congressmen, the sycophant lobbyists and congressional staffers, the greedy media consultants -- all are dependent on and addicted to the trappings of power, whether it's their next book, TV appearance, consulting contract, ride on Air Force One or junket to play golf at St. Andrews. Stephen Colbert turned the heat up on them all:
… 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!
It's getting hotter in the kitchen, and some of those who have the most to hide are getting closer to a meltdown.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.
So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I'm at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it's gonna take
To find Dignity.
Well folks, I guess someone had to do it eventually. It might say something about the times we're living in that it had to be done under cover of satire, but Stephen Colbert may be the Joseph Welch of our time. You may remember that Welch was the man who finally, at long last, stood up to the savage destruction that Senator Eugene McCarthy was imposing on the United States in his now infamous witch hunt for Communists inside the government.
Saturday night at the White House Correspondents dinner, Stephen Colbert gave what may one day be considered the equivalent of the now famous line Welch delivered to McCarthy to launch the beginning of that bastard's end: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
Time will tell if it has the same impact, but even if it doesn't, I will remember it forever as a time when, for even the briefest of moments, I felt free again.
Colbert was the featured speaker at the event and he did not disappoint. One can only wonder if whoever it was that approved him for the gig was under the false impression that the Bill O'Reilly-like character he portrays on his brilliant show "The Colbert Report" was his real persona.
Colbert toils in satire and his effort tonight was nothing short of a work of staggering genius that could only be pulled off by a man with testicles the size of Alpha Centauri. He savaged everyone in the room, and saved the best for the man sitting not fifteen feet away, George W. Bush.
Colbert's riffs on the lack of the media to question, well, basically anything for the majority of the last six years seemed to leave the room full of reporters feeling a bit unappreciated. And deservedly so.
They have stood watch while the greatest experiment in the history of man has been slowly (okay not that slowly) disassembled, twisted, and perverted to serve no one and nothing but big business... most noticeably the war machine. But he had plenty of gas in his tank for everyone and nobody was safe.
John McCain, Don Rumsfeld, Scott McClellan, Karl Rove, Tony Snow, the list goes on and it absolutely, positively, without a doubt, did not fail to include the Great Decider himself.
I won't even attempt to get into specifics here, you can watch it for yourself online, (www.crooksandliars.com) or on C-SPAN reruns Sunday at 12:30 ET. The real test now will be what happens next. Will the press finally realize that questioning the All Powerful Oz is not only their job, but their responsibility as citizens of this Great Country?
Will the White House Press Corps be willing to upset the White House with uncomfortable questions until they get an actual answer and not just a "no comment?" Will we, as a country, finally wake up and take responsibility for the madness we have wrought upon ourselves and the rest of the world?
The time is now, for tomorrow may be too late.
The United States, as a country, as an idea, is in grave danger. We have been lied in to what can now only be described as an unprovoked war of aggression and we will be paying for it in every way imaginable for the rest of our lives. Financially, we have wasted trillions.
Money that could have rejuvenated this country's infrastructure, its schools, inner cities, hospitals, as well as could have been used to develop alternative energy sources to get the US and the world off its oil addiction.
The human cost seems immeasurable. Some 2400+ American soldiers dead. Tens of thousands wounded. And how many dead and wounded Iraqis we will probably never know. Not to mention those thousands of young Iraqi children who will grow up hating the United States for killing their parents.
Talk about sowing the seeds of future terrorists. Our standing in the world as the moral authority of the human race can now only be laughed at and mocked. Where once the world sought to emulate the United States, now the world wants nothing to do with us.
And now, as the chicken-hawks in the administration again beat the drums of war in the direction of Iran, is when we will have to stand up and let our voices be heard. This will not stand. The Bush administration has turned us from a rich nation at peace to a flat broke nation involved in two wars and looking to start a third. This will not stand.
Tax breaks for the rich and war for the poor.
This will not stand.
Why are we surprised that under an administration of oil men (and women, let's face it, Condoleeza Rice did have an oil tanker named after her) the price of gasoline has doubled?
This will not stand. An administration that sees nothing wrong with warrantless wire-tapping, secret prisons, torture, and who knows what else, in the name of freedom, democracy, and the American Way.
This will not stand.
Stephen Colbert has looked the monster in the eye and he has called it like he sees it. And we cannot leave him alone out there with those savages.
They are liars.
Lying about the reasons for war. WMD's. Saddam/al-Qaida links, yellow cake from Niger, democracy. They are thieves. Stealing the money with which this country could once again become the guiding light of the world.
Stealing our fathers and sons, mothers and daughters for a war that has no reason.
And no end.
They are pompous, arrogant, conceited, fanatics who are certain that they are right and that you are wrong. That they know what is better for you than you do. They are the true American Taliban. And they must be stopped. Thank you Stephen Colbert. You were the first.
I can only hope you will not be the last.
Transcript of Stephen Colbert's monologue at the White House
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Before I begin, I've been asked to Make an announcement. Whoever parked 14 black bulletproof 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 actually 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? Dammit. The one guy who could have helped.
By the way, before I get started, if anybody needs anything else at their tables, just speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers.
Somebody from the NSA will be right over with a cocktail. Mark Smith, ladies and gentlemen of the press corps, Madame First Lady, Mr. President, my name is Stephen Colbert and tonight it's my privilege to celebrate this president. We're not so different, he and I. We get it. We're not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the factinista. 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 cause 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 hold a copyright on that term.
I'm a simple man with a simple mind. I hold 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 of plastic for three cents a
In fact, Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, 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 you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are 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 are 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
So, Mr. President, please, 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. Okay, look, 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." All right. The president in this case is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed is -- everything else in the world. It's the tenth round. He's bloodied. His corner man, Mick, who in this case I guess would be the vice president, he's yelling, "Cut me, Dick, cut me!," and every time he falls everyone says, "Stay down! Stay down!" Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky, he gets back up, and in the end he -- actually, he loses in the first movie.
OK. Doesn't matter. The point is it 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'm sorry, 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, or what did or didn't happen. Who'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. 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 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 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 decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. 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 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, "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 Hindenburg!
Now, it's not all bad guys out there. Some are heroes: Christopher Buckley, Jeff Sacks, Ken Burns, Bob Schieffer. They've all been on my show. 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's 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 Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff. General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They still support Rumsfeld. Right, 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! Come on, we've got a stop-loss program; let's use it on these guys. I've seen Zinni and that crowd on Wolf Blitzer. 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. Come on.
Jesse Jackson is here, the Reverend. Haven't heard from the Reverend in a little while. 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, by the way, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.
Justice Scalia is here. Welcome, sir. May I be the first to say, you look fantastic. How are you? [After each sentence, Colbert makes a hand gesture, an allusion to Scalia's recent use of an obscene Sicilian hand gesture in speaking to a reporter about Scalia's critics. Scalia is
seen laughing hysterically.] Just talking some Sicilian with my paisan.
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 it wasn't a salad fork. This guy could have used a spoon! There's no predicting him. By the way, Senator McCain, it's so wonderful to see you coming back into the Republican fold. I have a summer house in South
Carolina; look me up when you go to speak at Bob Jones University. So glad you've seen the light, sir.
Mayor Nagin! Mayor Nagin is here from New Orleans, the chocolate city!
Yeah, give it up. Mayor Nagin, I'd 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, I guess is what I'm describing, a seasonal cookie.
Joe Wilson is here, Joe Wilson right down here in front, the most famous husband since Desi Arnaz. And of course he brought along his lovely wife Valerie Plame. Oh, my god! Oh, what have I said? [looks horrified] I am sorry, Mr. President, I meant to say he brought along his lovely wife Joe Wilson's wife. Patrick Fitzgerald is not here tonight? OK. Dodged a bullet.
And, of course, we can't forget the man of the hour, new press secretary, Tony Snow. Secret Service name, "Snow Job." Toughest 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. Big shoes to fill. Scott McClellan could say nothing like nobody else. McClellan, of course, 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 myself. 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.