Journalism Politics

Stephen Colbert: the media just can’t handle funny

Every news desk loves a video of dogs singing or some wacky kid upstaging one of their own. Hahaha! Those lovable foibles of life, aren’t they charming?

But when, instead of mocking one of those innocuous “life’s little annoyances,” comedy serves up the content that the media could have and should have provided their audience, the industry is filled with consternation. “What if the joke goes too far?” they wonder. “What will the consequences be?”

Enter Exhibit A: Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC, generously titled Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. The entirely above-board, legitimate SuperPAC has been approved by the Federal Elections Commission under the rules of political engagement as they exist in this country. It stands as evidence of the insanely-permissive state of our politics where money is concerned and cries out for traditional media attention… to the issue itself. But that’s not what is happening. Instead, we get articles such as yesterday’s @NYTimes piece, filled to overflowing with quotations identical in their DNA to this one:

Stephen Colbert’s PAC Is More Than a Gag –

“He is taking on a serious subject that many Americans find deadly dull and is educating the broader public on why it matters and what is at stake,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. Still, she adds, “it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, like a specific campaign or the electoral system.”

*Still*, she adds. *But*, they say. This whole thing could just go way too far.

Why would it go too far? What would happen if it did? How is it possible that election law would allow something so silly to occupy the legitimate space of our electoral system? No answer. No investigation. No interest. The media is simply not that interested in finding out what drives the process, they only want to know why someone else is doing their job.

if the machinations of election law are “deadly dull,” they aren’t anymore, thanks to Stephen Colbert. They’ve been made silly, injected with the reassuring humor that humans crave. Here is the opportunity to delve into the subject like never before at a time when we need it like never before.

But no. Better to caution Stephen Colbert that he might go to far than to meet him half way.

Media Politics

Is Stephen Colbert Going Too Far?

Late Update: Like it or not, Stephen Colbert has scored a victory and gotten his SuperPAC.

Talking Points Memo ( @tpmmedia @joshtpm ) has a new article up about the antics of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. For the last few years, Colbert has been insinuating himself into national politics, threatening to run for president, to hilarious effect. He’s been doing an able job of making campaign finance law seem like the bag of shit that it actually is, but now some reformers are worried that his current tactics are setting a dangerous precedent:

Ultimately, if they follow the suggestions of their staff, the FEC seems set to let the Colbert Super PAC go forward one way or another… That’s a move that has campaign finance reformers worried… “This would carve out a gaping loophole in campaign finance laws, allowing any company involved in media to foot, in secret and without limit, the electioneering expenses of political committees,” Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman said in a statement.

I can certainly sympathize with those trying to reform our labyrinthine and ultimately ineffectual campaign finance laws. And watching the show, I’ve had the same sick feeling that the joke maybe is going to far.

But the problem isn’t that Stephen is taking the joke too far, but that the joke is possible at all. If he can – for comedy’s sake – twist the laws of campaigns in ways that forces the FEC to grant him a SuperPAC, then someone else can and probably already is trying to do so for political and financial gain. Like Andy Kaufman before him, Colbert isn’t causing things to happen, he’s causing things to happen in public.

The question is: can Colbert turn the corner on this prank and use it to affect some real change? Does he want to? I guess we’ll have to watch and see what happens next.