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Ignoring Colbert: A Small Taste of the Media's Power to Choose the News

04/30/2006 01:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The White House Correspondents' Association Dinner was televised on C-Span Saturday evening. Featured entertainer Stephen Colbert delivered a biting rebuke of George W. Bush and the lily-livered press corps. He did it to Bush's face, unflinching and unbowed by the audience's muted, humorless response. Democratic Underground members commented in real time (here, here, and here). TMV posted a wrap-up.

On Colbert's gutsy delivery, watertiger writes, "Stephen Colbert displayed more guts in ten minute of performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner than the entire Bush family. He, along with the ever-feisty Helen Thomas, deftly exposed the "truthiness" to the world (or at least those who were watching) that Bush AND the D.C. press corps are indeed a naked emperor and his gutless courtiers."

Mash at dKos says, "Standing at the podium only a few feet from President Bush, Colbert launched an all out assault on the policies of this Administration. It was remarkable, though painful at times, to watch. It may also have been the first time that anyone has been this blunt with this President. By the end of Colbert's routine, Bush was visibly uncomfortable. Colbert ended with a video featuring Helen Thomas repeatedly asking why we invaded Iraq. That is a question President Bush has yet to answer to the American public. I am not sure what kind of review Stephen Colbert's performance will get in the press. One thing is however certain -- his performance was important and will reverberate."

It appears Mash's misgivings about press coverage are well-placed. The AP's first stab at it and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune tell us everything we need to know: Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. The story could just as well have been Bush and Laura's discomfort and the crowd's semi-hostile reaction to Colbert's razor-sharp barbs. In fact, I would guess that from the perspective of newsworthiness and public interest, Bush-the-playful-president is far less compelling than a comedy sketch gone awry, a pissed-off prez, and a shell-shocked audience.

This is the power of the media to choose the news, to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity. Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission. And speaking of a sycophantic media establishment bending over backwards to accommodate this White House and to regurgitate pro-GOP and anti-Dem spin, I urge readers to pick up a copy of Eric Boehlert's new book, Lapdogs. It's a powerful indictment of the media's timidity during the Bush presidency. Boehlert rips away the facade of a "liberal media" and exposes the invertebrates masquerading as journalists who have allowed and enabled the Bush administration's many transgressions to go unchecked, under-reported, or unquestioned.

A final thought: Bush's clownish banter with reporters -- which is on constant display during press conferences -- stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?