Tuesday, May 02, 2006
More On Colbert's Speech.........
by Plaid Adder at Democratic Underground
And thank God for that.
This is probably not going to lead to Colbert getting a lot of outside-the-box speaking engagements, but so what. For 10 minutes he had the chance to say whatever he wanted to the people who have played a major role in turning 21st century America into the shithole it is, and he did something that the press have utterly and tragically failed to do. He refused to play nice just because he'd been invited into the club.
Stewart did the same thing when he was invited onto Crossfire before its demise. I'm sure that the guy who invited Colbert to the dinner was thinking the same thing Carlson and Begala were thinking when they invited Stewart to their soon-to-be-canceled show: now that he'd been invited into the club, they would all play along together, and everyone would have a good time. Stewart didn't, and neither did Colbert. It would have been easy enough for Colbert to spend the whole time attacking Bush--there's plenty of material, and he's at 32% and dropping--but he devoted a significant chunk of his appearance to going after the media as well. It's truly amazing watching the complete lack of amusement on all those well-made-up faces framed by perfectly-coiffed hair as Colbert insults them to their faces. The only person who comes out of it well is Helen Thomas, who stars in a video which closes the segment and which is probably the weakest part of the presentation--it probably needed a couple more edits before they showed it--except for the scenes with her stalking Colbert as he flees a press conference which thanks to her has gone horribly awry. The best moment comes in an underground garage, as an exhausted Colbert charges up to a police callbox and begs for help from this slow-moving octogenarian menace. "She won't stop asking me why we invaded Iraq!" he shouts. "Hey," says the voice on the other end. "Why did we invade Iraq?" "NOOOOOO!"
Like I said, there's some funny stuff in there, and he does get a few laughs--but only at jokes that involve things for which nobody in the room feels they have to take responsibility, like global warming, and Cheney's shooting of Whittington. Mainly the mood is one of shock and dismay--and not just because what Colbert is doing is 'inappropriate.' And I'll say this now: it absolutely was inappropriate. When someone invites a comic to a dinner, they often want him to roast one or more of the attendees; but they want him to do it gently, with love, in such a way that everyone will be reminded of why they really like the guy and how great he really is despite his minor flaws. Colbert must have known that was what they wanted from him, and he gave them ten minutes of squirming as he reminded them of all the ways in which they have failed to do their collective job. And in fact, the very fact that his act was inappropriate, impolite, ungrateful, and a violation of all the rules of etiquette was a major part of the critique. What is it they say--well-behaved women rarely make history? Well, a well-behaved press makes...this shit we're drowning in right now.
By doing that talk, Colbert modeled for them the refusal to compromise and the willingness to offend that they should have been demonstrating every day in that press room during the run-up to the Iraq war. It's not polite to call someone a liar to his face just because he's told you something that's patently not true. It's not appropriate social behavior to continue pushing your question in someone's face once he's said goodbye to you and moved on to someone else, just because he hasn't answered it. It's not grateful to repay the nice man who gave you your press pass and just called on you by asking him the questions you know he least wants to hear. It's not good manners to demand in no uncertain terms something that your host refuses to give you, even if it's the truth.
Between 2001 and 2004, the White House press corps, with a few exceptions, set a gold standard for polite behavior. They learned the appropriate rules and they observed them. And that's one of the reasons we started a war in Iraq over something that didn't exist: because they were afraid of being inappropriate. After 9/11, questioning Bush was just Not Done. It was like speaking ill of the dead, somehow: unless you were a fringe wacko on the web such as myself, you just didn't do it. It would bar you from the thresholds of all polite society. How could you be so mean to the brave man who's saving us from the terrorists? It was inappropriate. It was impolite. It was ungrateful. So it didn't happen--in the White House press room, or in the media outlets for which those reporters worked.
Helen Thomas was one of the few WH press reporters who understood something simple: that the Bush presidency was a crisis and a disaster. For that reason what had been accepted as "appropriate" behavior from the WH press pool had become grotesquely wrong, because it required the press to become complicit in telling the lies and maintaining the silences that made it possible for Bush and Cheney to pursue their insane domestic and foreign policies. She got that. We got it. But a lot of the other people in that room never got it. They went right on being polite, and strolled jovially alongside Ari and Scotty as we all traveled the path to perdition.
By standing up there and doing his act as he had written it, getting farther and farther into character as it became more and more clear that it was going over like a lead balloon, Colbert modeled for the press corps a form of courage that they have, by and large, miserably failed to demonstrate. He did his job the way he always does it without worrying about what the administration, his hosts, or his corporate sponsors were going to think of it. And he used those 10 minutes to tell the truth to people who certainly did not get themselves all dolled up for the purpose of sitting there and being forced to hear it. Having been offered the bone of insider status, Colbert, instead of scarfing it up and wagging his tail, bit the hand that fed him. It was uncomfortable, ungrateful, and ungracious; and it was exactly the kind of thing that the press should have started doing as soon as they realized what the crooks in the White House were feeding them.
So yeah. People are going to be all over the cable airwaves and whatnot calling Colbert's speech inappropriate. It absolutely was inappropriate. And it was also fucking right on. It is about time someone showed these people that there are more important things in the world than being invited back.
Thank you, Stephen Colbert,
The Plaid Adder