In 2006, my then-colleague, Marie Therese, wrote a post called, “Stephen Colbert, You Are My Hero!!” after he had the guts to call out President George W. Bush and the Washington press corps to their faces at the White House Correspondents Dinner. This week, during a lengthy discussion with Bill O’Reilly, Colbert wouldn’t even call out Fox News. UPDATED.
On Monday, June 13, O’Reilly visited The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and he and Colbert chatted for nearly 20 minutes. Mostly, they debated guns and O’Reilly’s thoughts on an “all out war on the Islamic State.” But, near the end, Colbert brought up the subject of Donald Trump.
Colbert did point out that Trump was “grandstanding” when he congratulated himself after the Orlando shooting. But Colbert allowed O’Reilly to help promote Trump as a tough terrorist-fighter with the following words:
O’REILLY: Trump is bringing a robust, “I’m gonna get these guys” attitude to the table. That’s what he’s bringing. Mrs. Clinton is bringing a more nuanced situation.
Trump is betting that the country now wants a real avenger. That’s what he’s betting, alright? Mrs. Clinton is very tied into the Obama legacy right now ‘cause she needs him to campaign.
“She might also believe in it,” Colbert added. But he never challenged O’Reilly on the fact that Trump’s “real avenger” bet was more about bigoted attacks on President Obama and demanding that he utter the magic “radical Islam” words than actual avenging. After all, Trump is a guy who didn’t know what the nuclear triad is. And Fox has been complicit in using the Orlando attack to help him.
Colbert never mentioned any of that. The fact that his previous comedic persona was based on an O’Reilly-type talk show host made the irony that much sadder. However Colbert did call O’Reilly’s “Legends & Lies” series on Fox News “fantastic.” Something tells me Colbert never watched a single episode.
In 2006, Colbert had the stones to bring his O’Reilly-type persona to his White House Correspondents Dinner presentation and say this (among a zillion other gems) to Bush and the White House press corps.
COLBERT: As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president’s side, and the vice president’s side.
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they’re super-depressing. And if that’s your goal, well, misery accomplished.
Over the last five years you people were so good—over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!
Sadly, that Stephen Colbert left us when he left Comedy Central's The Colbert Report for CBS' Late Night. This new Colbert has replaced muscularity with mushiness.
Congrats on the new show and the bigger paycheck, Stephen. But you’ve lost my admiration. Oh, and I recently caught up with Marie Therese and she told me you’ve lost hers, too.
Watch the O’Reilly segments below and then watch the old Colbert rock the White House Correspondents Dinner.
UPDATE: I inadvertently left out Colbert's amazing WHCD show. I'm adding that now.
You are right. That was great… the Colbert I used to know.
Didn’t see the O’Bully version, but I’m sure the great Stephen would not have knowingly have got along with any kind of Trump boosting unless he was physically (or contractually) forced to.
Comedians doing lightweight late night shows lose their edge because they’ve got to be careful not to offend people or they lose their mass audience. Heck, Leno used to brag how daring he was just make the occasional joke mocking NBC brass. Oh spare me!
Late night comics also compete for popular guests so they coddle them with softballs and let them do the sales pitch for their next project. I assume Bill was on “Late Night” pimping his latest killing series book: “Killing Journalism.”
While I kind of like “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” (as opposed to boring ‘phone it in’ David Letterman) he’s become the cuddly, fatherly Mr. Rogers of late night TV. Not really a complement but an excuse for me to go to bed on time during the work week.