Why Stephen Colbert is the Most Important Individual on Television

Now, some of you may know this about me, but I am a diligent and very-tough-to-please media critic. I spend more time than I should watching TV news on all three cable networks as well as Stewart and Colbert nightly. I would watch Olbermann (and do watch the clips CurrentTV makes available) were he available on Comcast in Northern Illinois. That there are a lot of hacks on TV news is something it took all of five minutes to learn. Won’t even mention Fox, as the entire network makes the Insane Clown Posse look sane and unlike clowns. That takes effort. CNN’s Don Lemon is quite good, but the rest of that network is a complete farce. Wolf Blitzer might just be the most worthless person on all of television, outpacing even Kim Kardashian and Snooki. Yes, Snooki. Piers Morgan peaked when giving Susan Boyle a “yes” on Britain’s Got Talent. He’s since conducted a bevy of painful-to-watch puff interviews and is implicated as a former News of the World editor in the growing Murdoch scandal. MSNBC has Lawrence O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow — meeting both of whom is a life ambition of mine. Both are brilliant and outspoken progressives who eloquently make progressive points. Lawrence’s rants are righteous, and Rachel is perhaps the most rational journalist on TV, diligently sourcing every story she reports and basing her editorializations on facts. She even admits her mistakes, which isn’t something I could ever see Chris Matthews doing. Martin Bashir is highly underrated. Dylan Ratigan is overrated, and dropping Cenk Uygur was a tragic mistake.

And yet.
Even MSNBC is quite flawed, and Phil Griffin is clearly more attuned to the bottom line than to actual reporting and honest editorializing. Most intelligent people know that Comedy Central, in an irony that’s been running for almost a decade now, is the most reliable news network on widely-available air. Digby and I had a short conversation a while ago about this, and I credit her with the inspiration for what I’m writing (and for just being a brilliant writer and flat-out badass).
Jon Stewart is reliably funny, clearly a student of contemporary media, the best eviscerator of Fox News out there, and plainly brilliant. I credit him as well with standing up vocally for the 9/11 first responders and helping them gain health coverage from Congress. Stewart is always must-see, and always puts a funny and incisive spin on the day’s news. His interviews are always intelligent and insightful.
Yet, as Digby said, Stewart plays more to his audience than to actual truth-telling. That’s not necessarily a criticism of him — as he’s said on multiple occasions, he’s a comedian, not Walter Cronkite. Colbert, however, succeeds in ways Stewart doesn’t when it comes to showing the right as the insane idiots they are. Largely, this is due to extremely deft use of satire — by posing as a right-wing know-nothing, Colbert can show just how know-nothing the actual right is. By playing up his Hannity-inspired persona as bombastically as he can manage, he completely devastates Hannity and anyone of his ilk.
Now, Lawrence O’Donnell last night had some harsh words about Colbert and his new Super-PAC project. I had to watch it a few times to be sure if he was glib or serious, but it seems he was serious. And I have to say, if so, O’Donnell completely misunderstands Colbert. The Super-PAC project is not about Colbert trying to trick people out of their money. (I’m amazed so many have donated, absolutely). What he’s doing is portraying the insanity of campaign finance in America. First as tragedy, then as farce, no? This is Colbert demonstrating brilliantly how insane running for president is in the contemporary USA, and how broken our media is that it would run Colbert’s ad. (And the “Cornographic” ad)
Colbert’s entire act rips to shreds any claim anyone on the Right can claim to seriousness. In portraying a homophobic, anti-tax, science-denying militarist, Colbert shows how radically absurd those actual ideas are. That character allows him to do things Stewart can’t, and Colbert is both brilliant and funny enough to pull it off nightly. Yes, some of his set pieces can be ridiculous, but such is the career of a gifted satirist. Enough are perfectly cutting.
When he breaks character, he does admirable things as well. His testimony before Congress on behalf of undocumented immigrants was incredibly admirable. His solidarity with soldiers in Iraq similarly so. His “It Gets Better” video is genuinely touching. All in all, he seems like a pretty remarkable guy and easily the wittiest and most important person on television today.
(originally posted at DailyKos.com)
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~ by Benji on 12 August 2011.

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