In a column titled “So Not Funny,” Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen declared that comedian Stephen Colbert's scathing routine at the White House Correspondents Association dinner was “rude” and “insulting,” and added that Colbert was “a bully.” However, Cohen offered no criticism of Bush when, in a pre-taped skit at the 60th annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association (RTCA) in 2004, he made light of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
In his May 4 column, titled "So Not Funny," Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen declared that comedian Stephen Colbert's scathing routine at the April 29 White House Correspondents Association dinner -- in which Colbert satirized President Bush, the Bush administration, and the press -- was “rude” and “insulting,” and added that Colbert was “a bully.” Yet despite his disdain for Colbert's efforts to poke fun at such topics as Bush's lagging poll numbers, Cohen expressed no disapproval of Bush when, in a skit that had been pre-taped for the 60th annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association (RTCA) in 2004, he made light of the administration's failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. By that time, more than 500 American service members had died in Iraq.
In his April 4 column, Cohen took exception to numerous jokes Colbert made during his 20-minute monologue:
Colbert made jokes about Bush's approval rating, which hovers in the middle 30s. He made jokes about Bush's intelligence, mockingly comparing it to his own. “We're not some brainiacs on nerd patrol,” he said. Boy, that's funny.
Colbert took a swipe at Bush's Iraq policy, at domestic eavesdropping, and he took a shot at the news corps for purportedly being nothing more than stenographers recording what the Bush White House said. He referred to the recent staff changes at the White House, chiding the media for supposedly repeating the cliche “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” when he would have put it differently: “This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.” A mixed metaphor, and lame as can be.
In addition to labeling such jokes “rude” and “insulting,” Cohen argued that Colbert, the host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, took “advantage of” Bush's “sense of decorum,” and suggested Colbert's jokes about Bush's low approval ratings, his intelligence, Iraq policy, and domestic spying made Colbert “a bully.” Cohen claimed Colbert could have used the opportunity to tell “Washington things it would have been good for them to hear,” but he did not elaborate on what those “things” -- different from what Colbert chose to address -- might be. Cohen suggested that Bush not attend the dinner next year, writing “Spring is a marvelous time to be at Camp David.”
Cohen, however, had no criticism for Bush's March 24, 2004, RTCA skit mocking the administration's failure to find WMD in Iraq. In fact, Media Matters for America could find no instance in which Cohen made any comment about Bush's skit.
The annual dinner featured Bush narrating a slide show with pictures of him searching the White House for Iraq's WMDs. As the BBC reported on March 26, 2004:
One pictured Mr. Bush looking under a piece of furniture in the Oval Office, at which the president remarked: “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere.”
After another one, showing him scouring the corner of a room, Mr. Bush said: “No, no weapons over there,” he said.
And as a third picture, this time showing him leaning over, appeared on the screen the president was heard to say: “Maybe under here?”
At the time, more than 500 U.S. soldiers and many more Iraqis had been killed in the conflict. Iraq war veterans and family members of fallen soldiers spoke out against Bush's joke, calling it "disgraceful" and stating that it "cheapens the sacrifice that American soldiers and their families are dealing with every single day." Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) also responded, stating: “If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he's even more out of touch than we thought. Unfortunately for the president, this is not a joke”
The day after the RTCA dinner, Cohen penned a column titled “Empty Talk at NPR,” lamenting the termination of longtime NPR host Bob Edwards. A Media Matters review* of Cohen's columns since March 24, 2004, has found no mention of Bush's WMD skit.
* A Nexis search of The Washington Post for "(Richard w/5 Cohen) and Bush and WMD" from March 24, 2004, to May 4, 2006.