The No Facts Comedy Tour
So we didn’t win the insanely huge Power Ball lottery prize, but that’s okay. I’ve come up with an idea that will make me rich: I’m going to produce a stand up comedy tour featuring David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Andy Borowitz called … Comedians Who Don’t Know The Internet Exists.
Seriously. I know they’re just comedians, but it’s not that hard to keep up with the news in the digital age. All week long David Letterman – who’s unapologetically pro-Obama most of the time – joked that the President was bogged down by scandals, including (ahem) “tapping” the AP’s phone lines and “listening in” on their phone calls. Of course, even a late night comedian ought to know the difference between subpoenaing phone records – you know, documents that show what numbers you called, what numbers called you, and how many minutes you were on the phone – and actually eavesdropping on live telephone conversations. But it’s harder to make dumb jokes about using the judicial process to obtain pieces of paper, isn’t it.
Meanwhile, if you want to know what the AP phone records dustup is really about, I wrote a couple of post that might help (here and here). They’re not funny, but they are accurate. I know. Facts are a total buzz-kill.
Anyway, then there was Jon Stewart, who went apoplectic over the IRS/Tea Party “scandal” on Monday, without knowing the facts. By Wednesday, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein deftly explained that the “scandal” had been miserably over-hyped:
The IRS mess was, well, a mess. But it’s not a mess that implicates the White House, or even senior IRS leadership. If we believe the agency inspector general’s report, a group of employees in a division called the “Determinations Unit” — sounds sinister, doesn’t it? — started giving tea party groups extra scrutiny, were told by agency leadership to knock it off, started doing it again, and then were reined in a second time and told that any further changes to the screening criteria needed to be approved at the highest levels of the agency.
I guess Jon Stewart doesn’t get paid to scream about stupid bureaucrats violating the rules of their own agency, being properly chastised for it, and yet doing again anyway. Naturally, you can’t make a joke about it unless you can blame Pres. Obama; and god knows you can’t miss an opportunity to jump on the manufactured-outrage bandwagon, even if the manufactured-outrage bandwagon was built by Fox News and the Tea Party. Who could’ve guessed that Fox News and the Tea Party would stretch the facts to fit their anti-Obama narrative?
In any event, rounding out the joke-first-ask-questions-later trifecta was Andy Borowitz, the Harvard educated standup comedian who pens a column for The New Yorker. On Saturday, Borowitz’s column took an Onion-like jab at the President:
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—President Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to reassure the American people that he has “played no role whatsoever” in the U.S. government over the past four years.
“Right now, many of you are angry at the government, and no one is angrier than I am,” he said. “Quite frankly, I am glad that I have had no involvement in such an organization.”
The President’s outrage only increased, he said, when he “recently became aware of a part of that government called the Department of Justice.”
Ha. Ha. Ha.
See, it’s funny, because, scandals!
It’s almost like Borowitz wrote that on Monday, didn’t bother to fire up his computer the rest of the week (which might have clued him into the fact that these so-called scandals are fading away faster than the Cubs in June), then rolled out of bed Saturday morning and hit the “publish” button before he poured his first cup of coffee.
Come on, son. Do your research.
So, here’s a thought. Maybe all three of them – Letterman, Stewart, and Borowitz – should have held their fire long enough to hear the Administration’s side of the story. Radical, I know, but it’s amazing what you can learn when you stop and listen. From Sarah Jones at PoliticusUSA:
Top White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer fought back against the week of Republican lies on Meet the Press, telling David Gregory, “We’ve seen this playbook from the Republicans before. What they want to do when they are lacking a positive agenda is they want to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings, and false allegations. We’re not going to let that happen.”
He then proceeded to drop a few fact bombs on the alleged “scandals”.
Of particular interest to Stewart and Borowitz, this is what Pfeiffer had to say about the IRS business and the President’s involvement in it:
DAVID GREGORY: You’re a communications professional as well. You never want a president of the United States coming out and saying I just learned about this from news reports. It doesn’t look like someone is large and in charge–
DAN PFEIFFER: In this situation that’s exactly what you want. You don’t want the President involved in an independent investigation with an agency with an independent stature like the IRS. That would be inappropriate.
The Obama administration appointed a career official to review the IRS procedures, someone who has served under presidents of both parties, because that is exactly what you do when you do not have an agenda to cover something up. The President is staying out of the investigation, as he should.
So, yeah, it’s a whole lot less funny when you actually understand the facts underlying the supposed scandals that erupted last week.
To be fair, Letterman, Stewart and Borowitz are head and shoulders above 90% of the other political commentators out there, including the non-comedic talking heads who appear on all the Sunday morning talk shows. But that’s precisely why it’s so frustrating when they base their comedy/commentary on utterly false premises. When right-wingers accuse the President of anything, you’re first instinct shouldn’t be: How do I make jokes about this? Your first instinct should be: Wait … if Fox News is saying it, what really happened?
Critical thinking skills and telling jokes are not mutually exclusive. Especially when the internet is there to help.