My New Year’s resolution is a repeat: never to trust the Big Media again. Except that the Big Media now include people like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.
I waited over a year for a Stephen Colbert story about me to appear. When it didn’t, they didn’t even send my kids the free T-shirts they promised. Can you get any lower than that?
“America’s ballsiest pundit,” as he is described, failed to deliver.
This isn’t sour grapes. It’s just a warning to conservatives. I didn’t let myself get set up.
When I traveled to New York City in October 2012 for an interview with one of Colbert’s producers, I had no illusions about his politics. I knew he was on the left. The former sidekick to Jon Stewart not only has his own Comedy Central show, but coordinated his “Keep Fear Alive” rally with Stewart’s “Restore Sanity” rally in 2010.
But humor is better than meanness, and both the Stewart and Colbert shows can be funny at times. So I thought I’d play along, hoping to score a few serious points.
The book, From Cronkite to Colbert, actually serves as a college journalism textbook, based on the premise that comedians like Colbert have become some of the most important sources of legitimate news. In effect, they have become the new media power brokers.
Perhaps his clout has been overestimated. Colbert’s sister, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, lost her bid for a seat in Congress in a special May 2013 election, losing to disgraced former Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (54 to 45 percent). Stephen Colbert had even campaigned for her.
I was told Colbert’s producers wanted to discuss communism and Russian espionage. Knowing it was the Colbert show, I sent them a humorous video AIM had done about the Moscow-funded propaganda channel Russia Today (RT). I also sent a serious report on the KGB’s role in terrorism.
I sat down with a producer, on camera, for an hour before briefly meeting Colbert on the way out.
The subject was Russian boars. The producer wanted to know if I thought the proliferation of this species of wild pig, now being hunted in such places as Michigan and North Carolina, was a Russian plot by Vladimir Putin. Get it?
Rather than being a total sap and playing completely along with the gag, I tried to turn the tables, mentioning Paul Kengor’s book on Frank Marshall Davis, The Communist, and leaving a copy. The book describes the influence that the Communist Party member had on President Obama.
Although they were looking for a funny angle—the invasion of Russian boars—I instead talked about Russian moles, some of them in government. In technical jargon, I went “off-script.”
I thought we should talk about Russian moles instead of Russian boars. Moles like Davis. Or, I suggested, the secret Russian agent Anna Chapman, who was arrested in New York City in 2010 and expelled for spying. (She recently proposed marriage to NSA leaker Edward Snowden).
Perhaps it was not what they intended. But I thought it was a serious point being made in a somewhat humorous way. It was something they could work with.
So I waited month after month, being led to believe the piece was being edited for airing.
Finally I got the news:
“Hi Chris [sic],
“The piece in which you were interviewed has been shelved indefinitely. Thanks so much though, for your participation. We’d be happy to send your kids a T shirt—what’s your address?
“All the best, Megan [Gearheart].”
All I got out of the affair was some coffee, donuts and sandwiches, and a train ride to and from New York City. My kids never got their T-shirts.
I still love New York City, and travel to and from there regularly. My family and I just saw “Newsies,” about the revolt against the Big Media of the day staged by the poor kids selling the papers.
Joseph Pulitzer tried to crush the revolt, in part by eliminating any mention of the strike in his papers.
The lesson of my experience with Colbert: If they can’t make fun of you, your story will end up on the cutting room floor.
Such is the nature of modern-day journalism. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at [email protected].