For the best part of six years, President Bush has endured tough treatment from the late night comedians. But this past April, he had to grin and bear it as Stephen Colbert ripped into him from just a few feet away at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
But the main targets of this practitioner of fake news are the talking – rather shouting heads – who populate cable with a diet of often wildly inaccurate but patriotic and combative noise. It was only a matter of time before someone came along to skewer them. As correspondent Morley Safer first reported last Spring, the eagle has landed.
Four nights a week on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert, the mild-mannered suburbanite turns into Stephen Colbert, the wild-eyed crusader, hell-bent on fighting for truth, justice and the American way.
"Even the weather page is in a state of moral decay. What's wrong with red, white and blue, USA Today? This rainbow weather map is just another example of the homometerological agenda," Colbert tells his audience.
If there is such a thing, he is your humble egomaniac. On his first broadcast, Colbert announced, "…This show is not about me. No, this program is dedicated to you, the heroes. And who are the heroes? The people who watch this show, average hard-working Americans. You're not the elites. You're not the country club crowd. I know for a fact my country club would never let you in. You're the folks who say something has to be done. And you're doing something. You're watching TV."
Colbert defines his no-nonsense philosophy with a single word: "truthiness."
"Truthiness. Now I'm sure some of the word police — the wordinistas — over at Webster's are going to say, 'Hey, that's not a word.' Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries. Or reference books. They're elitist," Colbert jokes.
Asked to define "truthiness," Colbert tells Safer, "Truthiness is what you want the facts to be as opposed to what the facts are. What feels like the right answer as opposed to what reality will support."
"But it's certainly not exclusive to the Colbert Report," Safer remarked.
"No, I'm just describing something. I'm describing ...," Colbert replied.
"Government. What's been coming out of politicians for a couple of hundred years," Safer said.
"Right," Colbert replied. "I don't think it's a new thing I'm describing, but I think we're getting better at it."
On one episode, Colbert gave an example: "Consider Harriet Miers. If you think about Harriet Miers, of course, her nomination is absurd. The president didn't say he thought about his selection. He said this: 'I know her heart.' Notice he said nothing about her brains. He didn't have to. He feels the truth about Harriet Miers. And what about Iraq? If you think about it, maybe there a few missing pieces to the rationale for war, but doesn't taking Saddam out feel like the right thing here?"
Asked whether the character he plays is smart, proud or stupid, Colbert says, "I think of him as a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot."
He may be the last defense against Hollywood liberals like Tim Robbins, who was a guest on the show.
"What's it like working with Clint Eastwood, and why do you hate our troops? I mean, what was your favorite project you've ever worked on, and would you rather have Saddam in power?" Colbert jokingly asked Robbins.