Stephen Colbert’s recent skewering of the president and the press at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner prompted a number of journalists to declare that Colbert “just wasn’t that funny.” (Lloyd Grove suggested that the lampoon had “bombed badly.”) But while mainstream outlets have all but ignored or belittled the event, web writers have rushed to Colbert’s defense. Yesterday Salon wrote a cover story on the media’s efforts to sweep Colbert under the rug—and got more traffic for this than for any story since breaking the Abu Ghraib torture photos—while the liberal blogosphere has been talking about him nonstop.
The disdain for Colbert’s remarks, most of which touched on issues that were all perfectly valid and matters of public record (NSA spying, the energy crisis, global warming, FEMA and Joseph Wilson), raises the question: what does the media find funny? Apparently, it’s when President Bush makes fun of those missing WMDs. According to Alternet:
It occurred on March 24, 2004. The setting: The 60th annual black-tie dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association (with many print journalists there as guests) at the Washington Hilton. On the menu: surf and turf. Attendance: 1,500. The main speaker: President George W. Bush, one year into the Iraq war, with 500 Americans already dead. That night, in the middle of his stand-up routine before the (perhaps tipsy) journos, Bush showed on a screen behind him some candid on-the-job photos of himself. One featured him gazing out a window, as Bush narrated, smiling: “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.”
Since Bush’s parody—which received none of the media backlash that Colbert’s did—1,900 more Americans have died in Iraq. Yet two years later Colbert points out indisputable failures of the administration and it’s widely considered “unfunny.”