As a longtime viewer of both shows, it is both surprising and easy to understand why The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have garnered such a large and loyal following. They utilize a methodology that is familiar to bloggers: filtering through a number of “news stories” and providing a provocative caption for the action. The back-to-back shows have become “must see TV” for many viewers that are dissatisfied with mainstream sources of information, again a common reason that people flock to blogs for insight.
The current issue of The Rolling Stone features Stewart and Colbert on the cover, bearing the title “America’s Anchors.” The interview itself demonstrates the utter ease with which the duo uncovers the humor of any situation, from the moment that Maureen Dowd set the recorder down: “’I had one like that in 1973,’ Colbert notes. ‘I thought it was a chaise,’ Stewart says. ‘I was going to lie down on it. I suppose there are two gerbils in there slowly paddling, and that’s moving the wheel.’” Wrote Dowd, “He asks if I also brought a calligrapher.”
Just this week, The Daily Show made note of CNN’s interviews with various bloggers at a so-called “blog party.” Clearly amused by the situation, Stewart commented that the occasion was short on “party” and long on “blogging,” and enjoyed that CNN was asking a blogger about blogging who was at a blog party, following it up with the comment that they would probably “talk about the interview on their blog later.”
And while there are certainly “fan sites” for both shows, there is actually a bona fide blog for fans of The Colbert Report which was established “to aggregate topical news articles and buzz from the blogosphere featuring Stephen Colbert into a comprehensive web site, as well as to feature archived articles, videos and other files for reference and educational purposes.”
Back in the golden days when The Daily Show had Colbert on staff, he did a report on the state of the blogosphere. As a “traditional” reporter, he discovered that “The vast majority of bloggers out there are responsible correspondents doing fine work in niche reporting fields like “Gilmore Girls Fan Fiction” or “Cute Thing Their Cats Do” or “Photo-shopped Images of the Gilmore Girls as Cats.” That’s great. But where I draw the line is with these attack-bloggers. Just someone with a computer who gathers, collates and publishes accurate information that is then read by the general public. They have no credibility. All they have is facts. Spare me.”
The scintillating satire continues as Colbert “mocks” bloggers for “sitting at home in front of (their) computer,” while “true” journalists are busy “busting my hump every day at the White House. Transcribing their press releases. Repeating their talking points. That’s how you earn your nickname from President Bush.”
It should go without saying that Colbert illuminates the central complaint of many: that the media is too accommodating and has become too ingratiated with the political elites to objectively and effectively perform their duties. This “outsider perspective”—a characteristic shared by some blogs—caused the Rolling Stone to consider that Colbert and Stewart “may truly be the most trusted names in news.”
Stewart notes that The Daily Show is “based in frustration over reality.” One could reasonably expect that many bloggers began under similar circumstances.
For years, it seems that American culture has engaged in both hero worship as well as a morbid curiosity about the sordid details of the lives of celebrities. For awhile it seemed that politicians were mostly off-limits. What The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have accomplished is that they are able to humanize the inscrutable. Through their scathing critiques of institutional idiocy and the biases of mainstream media, they have “scratched the itch” of the body politic.
Colbert is still basking in his newfound sense of legitimacy: the Peabody award, an Emmy nomination, the “Top 50 most influential people” list, and—most recently—the fact that all 28 incumbents he interviewed in his show were re-elected this past week. It is only natural to conclude with his thoughts on the burgeoning “legitimacy” of the blogs: “with legitimacy, the bloggers will gain a seat at the table. And with that comes access, status, money, power. And if we’ve learned anything about the mainstream media, that breeds complacency.
[This post was written by Nathan Rodriguez, PBB Research Associate]
Originally posted November 16, 2006 at PolicyByBlog