Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert was the featured speaker at this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner. The White House correspondents are, of course, those journalists we see in the White House briefing room, asking questions of presidential spokesmen and (under this administration) getting few answers. Their dinner guests are the President and many of his staff. The event is an opportunity for the two sides to trade humorous barbs in a sort of mutual roast, but the jokes are usually clawless.
Not this year. Standing six feet away from George W. on the speakers’ dais, before a crowd of media luminaries, Colbert (an actor who plays a rabid right-wing journalist on “The Colbert Report”) proceeded to rip everybody a new one, with a biting sarcastic wit that was evidently not appreciated by the President or his nominal adversaries in the press – neither side was spared.
Live coverage of this event was carried by C-Span, the station usually devoted to boring wall-to-wall coverage of votes and hearings in the US Congress. I suspect that relatively few people saw the event live on C-Span TV, but C-Span posted it on their website for a day or so, and it quickly made its way onto popular video sharing sites such as YouTube and the torrent networks, where it’s been thoroughly enjoyed by millions of ravening liberals like myself.
The mainstream media was slow to pick up the story, preferring to focus their coverage of the dinner on Bush’s own act, a comedy routine featuring himself and a Bush impersonator. The denizens of the blogosphere cried foul at the press’ failure to mention Colbert, so loudly that their outcry is now the story being covered, finally, by the New York Times et al. (Some of the press claim that they didn’t have much to say about Colbert’s routine in the first place because they didn’t find it funny.)
Whether or not the mainstream media tried deliberately to ignore Colbert, the role of by the Internet has been critical: the event was widely seen because it was distributed online where everybody could judge for themselves, regardless of whether the press chose to cover it. Copyrights be damned – this is important! Somebody finally got through Bush’s protective bubble, right in the face of the professional press who have so notably failed to do so. Chalk one up for the forces of online democracy.