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Monday, 22 December 2014 08:31

Colbert's Most Impactful Moment Was at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner

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Other columnists have remarked on the masterful run of Stephen Colbert as a bloviating blowhard based on Bill O'Reilly, who drenched right-wing zealotry in wry, undercutting irony. With the campy, rousing grand finale of "The Colbert Report" last Thursday, the former "Daily Show" reporter - who will now be the next host of "Late Night" will reportedly jettison his corrosive imitation of O'Reilly and be reincarnated as Stephen Colbert, bedtime talk show host.

Colbert may have indefatigably skewered the pomposity of right wing media pundits, but like all brilliant comedians he never was above indulging in comic shtick that could be traced back to the silliness of vaudeville. His "slaying" of Grimy - a Halloween costume incarnation of the grim reaper - before a non-functioning green screen in the last episode of his show was testament to Colbert's occasional willingness to elicit laughter even if cheezy, in the manner of Johnny Carson's tacky but humorous skits.

Nonetheless, Colbert brought a civility to humor that was distinct. His frequent author interviews were as waggish as they were revealing - and a forum for a much under-appreciated skill in the United States today: literacy. He was always the wittiest person on the set, but also simultaneously a calculatingly caricature. How many people can eviscerate their own assertion of ludicrous right-wing arguments with such unwavering aplomb?

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Yet, with all the praise being lavished on Colbert, his finest and most courageous moment - as some other columnists have noted - came at a 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. The event has become a Bacchanalia of political-media-entertainment celebritydom; one year, President George W. Bush received uproarious laughter as he fruitlessly searched for Weapons of Mass Destruction under the dais, after the "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq under false pretenses and the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

Each year at the Correspondent's Dinner, there is a comic speaker who toes the line of innocuous acceptable jokes that mildly mock politicians and other attendees. Colbert, however - in his 2006 speech - decimated both Bush, who was seated just a few feet away from him and was a sitting president, and the lapdog DC press corps. His wry comments cut so close to the truth that there was barely a laugh. Colbert delivered his script with unflappable confidence and timing, unfazed by the dumbstruck DC insiders.

Colbert's comments about Bush could have been a description of stereotypical residents found in Charles Pierce's mordant book, Idiot America. Just a few steps from Bush, Colbert opined:

Mr. President, my name is Stephen Colbert, and tonight it is my privilege to celebrate this president, 'cause we're not so different, he and I. We both get it. Guys like us, we're not some brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut. Right, sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works....

I stand by this man. I stand by this man, because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things, things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world....

The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.

Those are just some of the excerpts of that memorable speech (see the video). In totality, it was a devastating dissection of a jingoistic amoeba running the nation.

Colbert also launched incendiary broadsides into the heart of the DC press corps that generally is collusional with the government, Wall Street and corporate advertisers:

Over the last five years you people were so good, over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew. But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

The audience, filled in large part with media lackeys, sat smoldering in outraged humiliation.

The next day, the corporate mainstream media, for the most part shredded Colbert's appearance as inappropriate and distasteful. They had expected "truthiness," but instead got the truth - and it stung. However, a corporate media/White House takedown of Colbert never had legs. He returned to his persona on "The Colbert Report" without a nick from the DC entrenched class of punditry and politicians.

As Colbert departs his remarkable comic right-wing persona with the accolades that he deserves, it should not be forgotten that it was a comedian - an alumnus of Second City - in the disguise of a vain FOX media figure who was perhaps the only figure in the eight years of the Bush administration to publicly humiliate both the president and the DC press corps for their egregious failings.

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