The primary reason the press has downplayed Colbert's performance — other than deadline pressure the night of the dinner — is that members of the media like Stephen Colbert. Rather than shielding Bush from negative publicity, it is the other way around.I would argue both Colbert's performance and the president's garnered about the right amount of attention in the MSM. Whether you laughed more at President Bush or Colbert, one of them is inherently more newsworthy. First Lady Laura Bush performed in the president's place last year and received more coverage than the professional talent, whose name escapes me. Some of the risqué jokes she told might have had something to do with that but so might her position as First Lady. Isn't it possible a Stephen Colbert routine isn't exactly front-page material in the first place compared to, say, Iraq, Iran and immigration? Isn't it possible there's nothing earth-shattering in a comedian taking a few verbal shots at the president? And isn't that a good thing?
I like Stephen Colbert — as someone who watches cable news everyday, I find his pundit-show satire is dead-on. But his routine at the WHCD was not funny. It was not effective satire, either. It meandered all over the place, ending with the usual leftist critique of the reporters who cover the White House: that, with the exception of Helen Thomas, they are an uncritical bunch of stenographers who rarely challenge the administration's line on anything.
The jokes bombed because the truth in comedy is what makes it funny. The lefty bloggers who are now complaining believe that Colbert's critique of the White House press corps was accurate, but by and large they also believe that the Bush administration is a criminal enterprise and that all reporters should be spouting invective and accusations at press conferences — like Helen Thomas.
I would guess that, despite the president's low approval numbers, that is still a minority viewpoint. It doesn't ring true with most people, thus it did not succeed as comedy. Why would reporters — who like Stephen Colbert — give a lot of coverage to such a failed performance?