Tuesday, May 02, 2006


"Liberal" Media Ignores Colbert; Plays up the Conservative Narrative of "Bush The Good Guy."

Media touted Bush's routine at Correspondents' dinner, ignored Colbert's skewering

From Media Matters:

Following the annual awards dinner of the White House Correspondents Association held on April 29, numerous news outlets trumpeted President Bush's performance at the event. But in turn, many outlets entirely ignored the scathing routine delivered by the night's featured entertainer, Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. In his act, Colbert mocked the White House's current woes, slammed a wide range of Bush administration policies, and lampooned the mainstream media.

During his 20-minute routine at the April 29 dinner, Colbert appeared in character as the bombastic, Bush-supporting cable news host that he plays nightly on The Colbert Report. Colbert mimicked the administration's often over-the-top optimism, saying, "This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!" He touted the numerous problems currently plaguing the White House and advised Bush on how to handle each of them. On Bush's dismal poll numbers, Colbert commented, "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." Referring to the rising criticism of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Colbert said, "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."

As Editor & Publisher further reported:

Colbert also made biting cracks about missing WMDs, "photo ops" on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, melting glaciers and Vice President [Dick] Cheney shooting people in the face. He advised the crowd, "if anybody needs anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers and somebody from the N.S.A. will be right over with a cocktail."

Observing that Bush sticks to his principles, he said, "When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday -- no matter what happened Tuesday."

Colbert also fired on the Washington press corps. "I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country," Colbert said, "except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides of the story -- the president's side and the vice president's side." He expressed approval of the media's repeated failure to hold the administration accountable: "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." Further, he urged the White House correspondents in attendance to "[w]rite 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!"

Colbert's performance was preceded by a routine in which Bush and presidential impersonator Steve Bridges stood side-by-side behind identical podiums and made light of Bush's rhetorical style, as well as mispronunciations and grammatical mistakes.

But in their subsequent coverage of the event, numerous news outlets focused only on Bush's light-hearted comedy, while omitting mention of Colbert's blistering performance. On the April 30 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos played an excerpt of Bush's act and remarked that the dinner "gets more inventive every year." That same morning, on NBC's Sunday Today, co-host Lester Holt introduced clips of the Bush-Bridges routine by noting that the "relationship between the White House press corps and the president can be a contentious one, but last night it was all laughs." The footage of Bush's performance also aired on the April 30 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News.

On May 1, all three major networks played clips of Bush's routine on their morning shows, but ignored Colbert entirely. CNN's American Morning did the same.

Similarly, a May 1 New York Times article on the event -- "A New Set of Bush Twins Appear at Annual Correspondents' Dinner" -- by reporter Elisabeth Bumiller recounted Bush and Bridge's performance in detail and provided some background on how the routine was devised. The article reported, "With his approval ratings in the mid-30's and a White House beset by troubles, there is some evidence that Mr. Bush worked harder on his performance this year than in the past." But Bumiller omitted any mention of Colbert or the fact that he had highlighted the White House's current problems at the dinner.

Further, while C-SPAN broadcast the April 29 event live and aired the event in its entirety several times in the following 24 hours, the network also aired an abridged version of the dinner that featured only Bush's performance. Indeed, on May 30, C-SPAN broadcast a 25-minute segment (7:35 p.m. -- 8:00 p.m. ET), which featured approximately 10 minutes of footage of guests entering the event, followed by the full 15-minute Bush-Bridges routine.

These news outlets' failure to cover Colbert's lampooning of Bush stands in contrast to the media's coverage of a Correspondents' dinner during President Bill Clinton's first term. In 1996, radio host Don Imus was selected as the night's featured entertainer. During his act, Imus cast a harsh light on Clinton's problems at the time, including his supposed extramarital affairs, and raised questions concerning then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's financial dealings. But unlike much of the coverage of this year's event, news outlets such as the Times noted the uncomfortable response to Imus's barbs at the time:

* A March 23, 1996, New York Times article reported that "the correspondents apparently got more than they bargained for when Mr. Imus made fun of President Clinton's supposed extramarital affairs and Hillary Clinton's legal problems -- with both the President and the First Lady sitting on the dais as he spoke."
* A March 23, 1996, Los Angeles Times article reported, "Imus joked about Clinton's alleged extramarital affairs, the first lady's financial dealings and the homosexuality of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's half sister. The president was photographed grimacing at one of the lines.
* The March 22, 1996, edition of the CBS Evening News noted that Imus had delivered "political and sexual punch lines aimed at the Clintons."
* A March 23, 1996, Washington Post article noted that the dinner featured a "good-natured" performance by Clinton and Gingrich. "The evening began promisingly enough, with Clinton and Gingrich playfully clinking glasses in a toast before their good-natured mutual tweaking," the Post reported. The article then went on to report on Imus's routine: "With President and Hillary Rodham Clinton squirming in stony silence a few feet away on the dais at the Washington Hilton last night, radio shock jock Don Imus made jokes about Clinton's alleged extramarital affairs [and] his wife's alleged financial misdeeds."

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