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."
I can't add much to what is becoming a miniature web phenomenon -- Colbert's speech, which received almost no coverage in the news, has become the most viral of viral videos and has become the blog topic du jour -- but I do want to note one thing: there was an interesting contrast between President Bush's routine, which pleased the assembled reporters, and Colbert's routine, which most certainly didn't.
The President's funny routine basically portrayed the relationship of the press and the President as adversarial: he doesn't much like them, and they embarrass him by "not editing what I say." Everybody in the room can enjoy that, because that's what the relationship of the press and the government is supposed to be, at least in theory. The routine portrayed things as they should be.
Colbert's routine, while it's been described as a Bush-bashing routine, actually wasn't that hard on the President. It was, however, a stinging attack on the press, and it attacked them, over and over, for having a non-adversarial relationship to the government. Most of the jokes were built around the theme that the media is neutered and uncritical of the Bush administration: the joke about how the press hasn't been reporting critically on the issues that matter; the reference to the media's standard hackneyed descriptions of politicians ("John McCain, what a maverick"), the references to staged photo-ops. And the overlong videotaped segment with Helen Thomas was premised on the idea that most reporters don't ask questions that matter (so that Press Secretary Colbert reacts with shock and horror when Thomas asks him why they invaded Iraq). Colbert's routine essentially consisted of telling reporters, to their faces, that they've failed in their duty to be adversarial. That's a common belief among many people nowadays -- there's even a whole book about it -- but reporters, still worried about "liberal bias" complaints, haven't noticed the paradigm shift. Colbert forced them to notice, and they didn't like it at all.