The lines are always blurred between the two. In the last presidential election, Saturday Night Live became a keener player on the political commentary front when the show’s comedians took on Sarah Palin in regular skits. Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have made their fame on delivering real news as fake newsmen in a usually funny way. But when Stewart was voted most trusted newsman last year in a Time news poll, with real journalists trailing, it was clear a lot of people either didn’t know or didn’t care that he’s a fake newsman. Now, both comedians are turning up in more real news coverage.
Stewart returned to Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor the other day to joust again with host Bill O’Reilly. Their exchanges are always engaging and edgy, since they respect each other but hold different views on politics and policies. What was most interesting to me out of that rapidfire conversation was the remark Stewart made asked about Delaware Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell. The major media were attacking O’Donnell for a range of things she said or did in the past that made her vulnerable, and then for her subsequent decision not to grant interviews anymore while running a campaign. But when O’Reilly cued up the question, Stewart said he frankly didn’t think her past was all that important and he wasn’t going to focus on it. ‘I think Christine O’Donnell is the least interesting candidate in the Tea Party,’ he scoffed, and moved on to larger issues. First person I’ve heard on a news show say that.
Though he’s spent the past two years supporting President Obama with hardly a critical comment, he did admit ‘Obama was elected as a visionary but turns out to be a functionary.’ Though he was defensive, that was a candid moment for Stewart.
I give him credit for that. I’ve given him credit here before for fairness with guests he may not agree with on thorny issues. Stewart is talented and intelligent and funny, and though I don’t agree with some of his views, I appreciate his show prep and cleverness especially when he’s fair. But that doesn’t happen sometimes in a spectacular way. He recently invited former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss his new book, A Journey, and virtually gave him no time to talk. Stewart launched a tirade against Blair and gave him no real chance to respond. No matter what the differences in political ideology, this guest was a world leader. We should have heard what he had to say.
That’s the prerogative of a comedy show host. But they’re having it both ways. Now it’s Colbert. In Congress, no less.
Stephen Colbert launched a comedy sneak attack on Congress Friday.
He submitted serious testimony to a judiciary subcommittee hearing on the issue of farm workers and immigration, but when it was his turn to speak, the talk show host slipped into character as a satirical conservative to make his points in support of more favored status for migrant farm laborers.
How ridiculous did it get?
He tried to enter images from his colonoscopy into the Congressional Record during a riff on how Americans should eat less roughage. Then Colbert recalled his day spent picking vegetables at an upstate New York farm earlier this summer.
“I’ll admit, I started my day with a preconceived notion of immigrant labor,” he said.
“I have to say, and I do mean this sincerely: Please don’t make me do this again. It is really, really hard,” Colbert said, pretending to choke up.
And he didn’t stop there.
This was demeaning of everyone involved.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was not amused. “Mr. Colbert’s submitted statement was considerably different from the one that he presented,” he said.
Before Colbert had started to testify, Conyers asked Colbert to submit his written statement and leave the room before testifying. The congressman later withdrew that request.
Colbert’s sarcasm continued when he was questioned by lawmakers. Asked by the panel’s ranking Republican, Lamar Smith of Texas, how many workers had joined him during his day on the New York farm, Colbert replied, “I didn’t take a count. I’m not good at math.” When Smith asked how many of them were illegal, Colbert replied, “I didn’t ask them for their papers, although I had a strong urge to.”
Smith asked Colbert if that one day on the farm made him an expert. Colbert replied, “I believe one day of me studying anything makes me an expert.”
This high profile mockery backfired.
A top House Democrat said Sunday that TV comic Stephen Colbert’s in-character testimony at a congressional hearing Friday was “an embarrassment” to the comedian and wrong for the House.
“His testimony was not appropriate. I think it was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, on “Fox News Sunday.”
But how did Colbert get into the House? This is interesting…
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat and the chairwoman of the subcommittee, who called Mr. Colbert to testify, is also chairwoman of the House’s ethics committee, which has been unable to schedule ethics trials for Reps. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, and Maxine Waters, California Democrat, who were charged over the summer.
It’s getting harder to tell the difference between real politics and a political skit.