After nine years at the helm of The Colbert Report, where he turned his brilliant right-wing persona into a sprawling marketing empire (see your grocery's freezer section), explained super PACs to everyday Americans, enlightened us about divinity, and added "truthiness" to the nation's vocabulary, Stephen Colbert says his farewell to the Colbert Nation this week to become CBS's new Late Night host. (Sans persona.)
For nearly ten years and more than 1,400 episodes, Colbert remained a constantly amusing and insightful part of our national dialogue. "Fans of the show and its indomitable host (only now defeated by the real-life lure of late-night respectability) have good reason to mourn," noted The New Yorker earlier this year, while Salon recently crowned Colbert "one of the most important figures in U.S. political comedy of all time."
By embracing the absurd and truly embodying it, Colbert has made politics and public policy uproariously funny, while providing much-needed bouts of sanity for devoted news junkies.
His satirical voice won't be gone completely, of course. Colbert's late-night colleague Jon Stewart continues to soldier on with The Daily Show, that show's alumni John Oliver is doing fine work at HBO, while another, Larry Wilmore, readies his turn to take over Colbert's late-night Comedy Central slot.
But there's no denying Colbert's exit from Comedy Central marks a cultural and political milestone of sorts. The exit is disheartening not only because the genuine laughs will be missed, but because Colbert's satirical work has been instrumental in spearheading progressive arguments and critiques for years.
Colbert's departure also reminds us how hollow conservative comedic efforts have been, as they fail to play catch-up in the cultural war of political satire. Humor remains a rhetorical weapon that American conservatives simply cannot harness.
Maybe that's because political comedy usually doesn't work well when it's anchored in seething hatred or even casual contempt, the type that conservatives hold for President Obama. Political satire works best when it's fueled by curiosity, bewilderment, annoyance, and with a dash of self-righteousness mixed in. And for nine years, Colbert has been deftly mixing that cocktail on The Colbert Report.
From the September 25 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
From the September 24 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
From the September 19 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
From the July 17 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
From the April 11 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
On the January 7 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert called out Fox News for using an unsourced photo of Al Gore's 2006 book An Inconvenient Truth selling for $1 as a means of mocking climate change:
Fox's coverage of the September 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi has increasingly been prone to extreme paranoia, excluding key evidence, and plain misinformation. Last night on his show, Stephen Colbert examined how Fox has been covering the Benghazi attack and why the network may be covering it that way.
From the October 24 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
Niall Ferguson's Newsweek cover story on President Obama exemplifies a deficiency in today's media. As criticism of Ferguson's shoddy work mounted -- both from outside and inside of Newsweek/The Daily Beast -- Newsweek explained to Politico's Dylan Byers that Newsweek "rel[ies] on our writers to submit factually accurate material." Indeed, Byers also noted that Newsweek does not even have a fact-checking department.
This admission is disturbing on face. Newsweek wants to sell you stories and news about the world but can't even be bothered to check the claims it publishes. Even worse, they didn't seem all that uncomfortable with the admission. Newsweek's defense is that others are this lackadaisical at journalism, which is to say Newsweek has no defense. In a media environment without fact-checkers, it's no wonder we have fabulists and problems with facts and the media. But there's a more pernicious ramification of Newsweek's abdication of journalistic practices: This is what the predatory conservative echo-chamber and Fox News count on.
Fox and the right-wing echo chamber exploit these vulnerabilities in the media. When the media process seems shoddy (regardless of whether it actually is) and the result produces news that is inconsistent with conservative ideology, right-wing media pounce and attack the outlet as part of some left-wing media cabal. We've seen Fox do this from Dan Rather to Politico to ABC News to MSNBC and more. On the other hand, when they find the argument useful, the right-wing echo chamber can herald the piece and ignore inaccuracies within.
It's no surprise that while discussing Ferguson's article across multiple programs, Fox never discussed the myriad factual problems in Ferguson's piece that one could find with a rudimentary Google search. This is even as Ferguson's self-professed friend who writes for the same outlet called the piece "absurd propaganda."
On the November 14 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert mocked Fox News' inflated estimates of the number of jobs the Keystone XL pipeline might provide, playing video of anchors and guests estimating it would create "20,000 immediate jobs," "118,000 in direct jobs" and finally "a million new high-paying jobs." In fact, even TransCanada, the company that would head the project, has said the total jobs created would be far fewer, and an independent report has found that the project could actually destroy more jobs than it creates through higher fuel costs and environmental damage.
From The Colbert Report:
On the September 14 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert mocked Fox News and the NY Post's story attacking President Obama over the paper clip used to hold together his jobs bill. After playing clips of co-hosts from Fox News' Fox & Friends and The Five attacking the paper clip, Colbert joked, "I'll tell you folks, the story of Clipgate is spreading like wildfire -- all the way from Fox News studio E to Fox News studio J." Later, he added, "If [Obama] really believed in this bill, he should have presented it in a leather-bound volume with gold filigree and illuminated initials, so the Republicans had something presentable to dismiss before they ever look at it."