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The Colbert Blackout

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 1:21 PM

The traditional media's first reaction to satirist Stephen Colbert's uncomfortably harsh mockery of President Bush and the press corps at Saturday night's White House Correspondents Association dinner was largely to ignore it.

Instead, the coverage primarily focused on the much safer, self-deprecatory routine in which Bush humorously paired up with an impersonator playing his inner self.

The result, however, was a wave of indignation from the liberal side of the blogosphere over what some considered a willful disregard of the bigger story: That a captive, peevish president (and his media lapdogs) actually had to sit and listen as someone explained to them what they had done wrong; that the Bush Bubble was forcibly violated, right there on national television.

Now the mainstream media is back with its second reaction: Colbert just wasn't funny.

Yes, it turns out Colbert has brought the White House and its press corps together at long last, creating a sense of solidarity rooted in something they have in common: Neither of them like being criticized.

See yesterday's column for more about the Colbert and Bush performances. YouTube has the video and Daily Kos has the transcript of Colbert's speech.

The Second Wave

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post's gossip column: "The reviews from the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner are in, and the consensus is that President Bush and Bush impersonator Steve Bridges stole Saturday's show -- and Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's cutting satire fell flat because he ignored the cardinal rule of Washington humor: Make fun of yourself, not the other guy.

" 'You have to have a great deal of confidence to do self-deprecating humor, especially when you're being attacked day in and day out,' said Landon Parvin, who helped Bush and Bridges write the jokes contrasting Bush's public voice with his supposed inner thoughts."

It's not entirely clear from whom, besides Bush's own joke-writer, Argetsinger and Roberts divined what they described as the consensus view. But it's a safe bet that, at a minimum, they were speaking for The Washington Post newsroom.

Paul Bedard writes for U.S. News: "Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert's biting routine at the White House Correspondents Association dinner won a rare silent protest from Bush aides and supporters Saturday when several independently left before he finished.

" 'Colbert crossed the line,' said one top Bush aide, who rushed out of the hotel as soon as Colbert finished. Another said that the president was visibly angered by the sharp lines that kept coming.

" 'I've been there before, and I can see that he is [angry],' said a former top aide. 'He's got that look that he's ready to blow.'


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