Stephen Colbert, Truthiness and a Shocked Press Corps

Posted on May 1, 2006

Photo of Stephen ColbertComedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's hit show The Colbert Report had a tough assignment Saturday night: he was the featured speaker at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington, D.C. The annual affair has a long-standing tradition of comedy: the president is expected to poke fun at himself (last year his wife Laura pulled no punches when making fun of her husband) and at the press corps. Politics, world leaders: nothing is off-limits for this evening which is invitation-only. But this year, quite a few people had a ringside seat as CSPAN played the video several times and various online outlets made the footage available.

Colbert's schtick is his persona as an over the top talk show host who is a bombastic amalgam of Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and various other personalities (I've seen homages to both Aaron Brown and Lou Dobbs, as well.) So when Colbert took the podium to declare his absolute adoration of President Bush and his "fabulous" foreign policies, we all knew what was coming. After his monologue, he then showed a brilliant comedy bit where Colbert imagined himself as President Bush's new press secretary. He had three secret buttons on his podium, including a Volume button (to reduce the sound on individual reporters when they became irritating) and a Gannon button to hit if the questions were getting too incisive.

In his live speech, Colbert gleefully skewered nearly everyone in the room, starting with Vice President Dick Cheney -- who mysteriously was not in attendance.
Wow. Wow, what an honor. The White House correspondents' dinner. To actually sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what? I'm a pretty sound sleeper -- that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face. Is he really not here tonight? Dammit. The one guy who could have helped.
The Iraq War:
I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.
The religious right:
I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible -- I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical. And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior. [Note: Colbert is a practicing Catholic, if you're keeping score on those kinds of things.]
The president and his approval ratings:
I believe in this president. Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it's 2/3 empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash.


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.
Photo ops:
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.
Fox News:
As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.
Journalists in need of a spine transplant:
As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. 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. 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!
Even John McCain and his so-called "maverick" image could not escape unscathed:
John McCain is here. John McCain, John McCain, what a maverick! Somebody find out what fork he used on his salad, because I guarantee you it wasn't a salad fork. This guy could have used a spoon! There's no predicting him. By the way, Senator McCain, it's so wonderful to see you coming back into the Republican fold. I have a summer house in South Carolina; look me up when you go to speak at Bob Jones University. So glad you've seen the light, sir.
Afterwards, President Bush got up, shook Colbert's hand and told him that he did a good job -- you just know that presidents hate these things. Clearly, Cheney just couldn't stand the idea of sitting through all those "shot a guy in the face" jokes, several of which were told by President Bush.

Stephen Colbert has brought back the subtle and difficult art of irony. His performance was absolutely hilarious. And that's the Wørd.

You can read a full transcript of Colbert's routine here.