Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why Stephen Colbert is "Not Funny"


So let me tell you a bit about my night [at the White House Correspondents' Dinner]. After exchanging brief pointless smalltalk with Tony Snow, Dan Bartlett and even George Clooney at the Newsweek pre-dinner party, I repaired to the ballroom where I found myself sitting next to -- of all people -- Kristen Silverberg.

Now you may not know who Kristen Silverberg is, but I've been following her movement through Bush's inner circle for quite a while now. First she was a campaign worker, then a young aide in the chief of staff's office, then a high-level policy adviser.


In pretty much any other circumstance, if I had a chance to talk to Kristen Silverberg, I would grill her about Bush's plans for Iran, or about her mentor Karl Rove, or on the inner workings of the White House.

But here she was sitting next to me as the guest of a Washington Post White House correspondent, and it wouldn't have been appropriate. Not to mention, she's sweet as pie. Heck, I was pushing the limits of propriety by introducing her to everyone at the table this way: "She's John Bolton's boss!!!"

We ended up talking about Karl Rove, but only in the most general terms. I noted that she might be Rove's protege, but that -- according to my wife, at least -- Rove is my greatest muse. (He does seem to inspire some of my finer columns .)

As a result, Silverberg very kindly offered to introduce me to my muse. I said I couldn't possibly. She insisted. And next thing I knew we were over at table 54, chatting with Rove himself.

In person, Rove was charming. He looked genuinely confused when I told him that the headline of my Friday's column had been " Rove Worrier ," a reference to his possibly imminent indictment in the CIA leak investigation.

And in fact, he didn't look the least bit worried.

The conversation quickly turned to the fact that he adores Silverberg and thoroughly grills every one of her potential suitors.Of course, what I wanted to do was ask him: Why did he lie to journalists about not having been one of the people who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to Robert Novak? What exactly did he tell the grand jury last week? How does he feel about getting kicked across the hall into a windowless office? (He's moving into Michael Gerson's old digs.) Is there any serious chance of a detente with the press?

But this was not the time. Instead, I went back to my table with Silverberg, still not talking about Iran.

And not only had I gotten nothing useful out of Rove -- but now I was beholden to Silverberg.

As luck would have it, I was able to wipe that particular slate clean in short order. Silverberg kept eyeing actor James Denton, the hunky plumber from "Desperate Housewives," who was sitting a few tables away. I went over and persuaded him to come say hello. Silverberg was thrilled. And I was off the hook.

But what value did any of this have to my readers? Not much.
Journalists covering the White House have a job, as Froomkin notes:

Ideally, every chance we get to talk to these people, we should be pumping them for information. And ideally we would be consistent in expressing our frustration with them -- not for personal reasons, not for partisan reasons, but because they're making it nearly impossible for us to do our job, which is to inform the public on what's going on in the White House and why.

The coziness of the dinner is a perfect example of what's gone wrong with access journalism. What's in it for the readers?
But it's not for the readers; it's for the journalists.

Which is why Stephen Colbert simply was not funny; but the President was.

1 comment:

  1. I think Stephen Colbert is funny. Isn't it interesting how opinions work?

    What's even more interesting is the underlying mental disorder that causes a person to delusionally believe that a personally held OPINION is = to a FACT. In other words, just because you have an opinion about something, and present it as a fact, doesn't make it any more than an opinion. Is the horse dead yet? durp....