Stephen Colbert, Court Jester

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The White House Correspondents’ Association invited Stephen Colbert to speak last Saturday. It’s a yearly ritual: the press corps, the administration and five b-list Hollywood celebrities get a little drunk together, the President makes fun of himself and then a comedian makes fun of the President. Then Michael Bloomberg pays for the open bar. Katrina vanden Heuvel looks good in her gown; Karl Rove looks awkward in his tux. It’s fun.

Only this year Stephen Colbert, invited as a comedian, refused to play ball. Or, depending on whom you ask, he bombed. He certatinly didn’t kill; to see his performance on C-SPAN, pans to the audience reveal nervous giggles, faint amusement and some shock but certainly no belly laughs. What he did do was go after the President of the United States, sitting there two seats to his right. Burying Bush, by praising him.

To understand what this means, it’s best you watch a bit of it yourself. (C-SPAN has pulled its coverage of this event from YouTube, so we can’t offer it for you here. There are, however, some sound clips from Colbert’s speech embedded in our program.)

Video of Colbert’s appearance Thanks, Derrick Pohl!

Is this a work of comedy or agitprop? Can only the court jester can tell the truth? Is the White House press corps is already on the case and does it not need a New York-based comedian to speak truth to their power? Is a video clip on the web the only way to understand Washington? Do you lose something by actually being there in the room with the administration? And why has the press in general been so reluctant to cover the Colbert moment, and the blogosphere so eager?

Helen Thomas

Senior Member of the White House Press Corps

Noam Scheiber

Senior Editor, The New Republic

Author, About Saturday Night, The Plank, May 1, 2006

Ann Althouse

Blogger, ALTHOUSE

Author, Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner., ALTHOUSE, April 30, 2006

Professor, University of Wisconsin Law School

Michael Scherer

Washington Correspondent, salon.com

Author, The Truthiness Hurts, salon.com, May 1, 2006

Robert Thompson

Trustee Professor of Television and Popular Culture, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications

Founding Director, Center for the Study of Popular Television, Syracuse University

Jay Rosen

Professor, NYU School of Journalism

Blogger, PressThink

Extra Credit Reading

Ed Batista, Debord, Stewart, Colbert, Ed Batista, 5/02/06

Deborah Conner, One for the White House?, The Moon’s Favors, 5/02/06

Cassandra, Colbert Bombed On Merit, Villainous Company, 5/02/06

Greg, Stephen Colbert’s White House Speech, Greg’s Blog, 5/02/06

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