Saturday, July 29, 2006

“The man’s got a sense of humor – unlike, evidently, journalists.”

The opening segment of the July 25, 2006 episode of The Colbert Report had a number of great moments (you can watch it here). One was Colbert’s coverage of Bush’s stem cell veto, and his discussion of how the President should use his unpopularity, strategically, to his advantage. Indeed, stem cell research is a controversial topic, and the President’s veto has garnered a lot of news coverage (searching “bush stem cell veto” on Google News brings up almost 7,000 articles at the time of this writing). A great resource for looking at this issue, especially in relation to TCR, is FootnoteTV, a website devoted to looking at the real news and issues that are referenced in popular television shows, and written and maintained by Stephen Lee. He has several links to the actual documents and press releases related to the subject of stem cell research, and more specifically, Bush’s veto, in his post about the July 25th episode.

Another great point that was brought up in this episode was Colbert’s interview of Rep. Robert Wexler for the July 20, 2006 episode’s “Better Know a District” segment. On Tuesday (the day this episode of the Report aired), both The Today Show and Good Morning America devoted time to TCR and Colbert’s interviewing of politicians. Between the two shows, both Colbert’s interview with Wexler and a previous (yet news-making) interview he had done with Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (I’ll try to have both videos up soon) were referenced, and both shows asked why politicians would go on the show, knowing that they would most likely be made to look foolish. Colbert’s ensuing analysis was great, and very funny, and yet this is a valid question.

Apparently, politicians are much more “in” on the joke than we give them credit for. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in an interview with Rep. Rick Larsen, reported that “Larsen has no regrets [about his appearance on TCR]. Taping the segment, he said, "was a great time." And it will bring him some notoriety among his colleagues, whether they've been singed or not. "Around here, it's like a badge of honor to be on Colbert," he said.” In that interview, Larsen also said, “They interview you for an hour and take the four or five minutes that make you look the most ridiculous. That's their job, and my job was to look ridiculous” – which goes to show that he fully understood what he was getting himself into. Indeed, The Washington Times reported that for many of these politicians, “any publicity is good publicity.” In their article, “Politicians relish comic's needling”, they quoted several Representatives who had been profiled through the “Better Know a District” segments, many of whom had good things to say. “We tend to take ourselves too seriously in this business,” said one, while another commented, “You have to have the right attitude [about being interviewed by Colbert].” While some responded in the way one might have suspected (“It was a stupid waste of time, and he is two stooges short of a good routine,” said one, while another observed “I would think it would be OK to go on if you were live to tape, but don't subject yourself to a comic's edit unless you want to be made a fool of”), which is understandable given Colbert’s tendency to make the representatives look silly. However, it is clear that they are not as unintelligent as many accuse them of being – often, they are simply playing along with the joke. Wexler reportedly played along with Stephen’s joke purposely, after having agreed to be on the show at the urgings of his own staff members. Larsen commented, “I talked to other members about their experiences, and they told me the whole thing is, they are going to edit; they are going to take the answer to question B and put on question A. So what are you gonna do? You just play along. All you can do is just play along.”

(By the way – Westmoreland’s press secretary, Brian Robinson, responded to the Representative’s appearance on the Report, and specifically Westmoreland’s ability to name only three of the Ten Commandments he is pushing to have erected in the Congressional buildings, by saying that Rep. Westmoreland had actually been able to name seven of the Ten, but that the segment had been edited in such a way as to exclude the rest of his response.)

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