Sophia A. McClennen

What I'm watching

The Debate You Really Want to Watch: Stewart vs. O’Reilly

On Saturday satire goes toe to toe with punditry when multiple Emmy winner and political comedy guru, Jon Stewart, goes up against Fox’s noble newsman, Bill O’Reilly, in a 90 minute debate. The Rumble in the Air-conditioned Auditorium will live stream for $4.95 on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. with a portion of proceeds going to charity.

So what is this debate really all about and will it overshadow the “;real” political debates airing these weeks?

Let’s start by asking what the debate is really all about. Are Stewart and O’Reilly trying to upstage the candidates by actually putting on a good show where issues are actually discussed with some depth? Or is this just more of the ratings race to attract viewers? Can it be both of these at the same time? And more importantly, are we witnessing the final move where political commentary and entertainment are forever entwined?

We can’t answer those questions without stopping to point out that there is a big difference between the two players in this performance. Stewart is a satirist with a show on Comedy Central and O’Reilly is billed as a respected news source on Fox, but many consider him one of the loudest voices in bloviating punditry. O’Reilly wants to be taken seriously and he gets agitated when he is accused of being nothing more than a fear-mongering, fact-bending, blowhard. Stewart, in contrast, is first and foremost a satirist, which means that he wants to get his audience to think while giving them comic relief.

The difference between them is crucial since it marks out what’s at stake. If Stewart gets viewers to think about politics and understand issues while he entertains them that is just pure gravy. And, of course, Stewart has lately gone more directly at political commentary, at times leaving the comedy a bit on the back burner. And it is that blurriness for Stewart that will make this debate even more entertaining for us all to watch. Over the years we have watched O’Reilly and Stewart develop a real camaraderie, albeit one that involves deep ideological opposition. Stewart’s crossing over more and more into direct political commentary, rather than satirical commentary can be seen here in his recent interview on O’Reilly’s show when they pitched the debate:

The more perplexing part of the story is O’Reilly’s fascination with Stewart and his willingness to take Stewart seriously whether as an adversary or a colleague. Watch how chummy he is with Stewart when he appeared on his show:

read the full blog here.

It's Arithmetic: The Romney Campaign Adds Up to Lies and Insults

We need to continue to thank Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for using their powerful political comedy to shed some light on these recent developments. The segments they have run show us that Romney’s comments are not gaffes. They are not bloopers. In fact, they are glimpses into the character behind the candidates.

Colbert hit this point home with typical satirical wit when his right-wing pundit character explained that this was “;not a crisis for Romney, this is a triumph, because Mitt nailed it! Obama supporters are nothing but lazy parasites.” He then came to Mitt’s rescue by showing him how to “;elegantly deliver his message with more panache.” Watch the clip here:

As the mainstream news media stumbles from one campaign crisis to another, we can thank *Comedy Central *for offering us two credible sources on the key issues behind the campaign. Stewart and Colbert combine night after night to offer us a refreshing critique of the media coverage of the campaigns and of the spin offered by the candidates. And they do it while entertaining us.

To trope on Bill Clinton, “;It’s Arithmetic.” Colbert and Stewart have shown us that the Romney campaign adds up to lies and insults. Now it’s our turn to do the math and decide what this campaign really adds up to.

Read the full blog here.

Truthiness Is Not a Joke: Lying and Loving It at the RNC

When comedian Stephen Colbert launched his show, The Colbert Report (2005), he introduced the word “;truthiness” to the U.S. public. Speaking in character as a bloviating right-wing pundit, Colbert explained that truthiness was thinking from the gut, ignoring facts, and holding beliefs with no basis in reality.

At the time, his main target was George W. Bush, who had repeatedly told the U.S. public during his presidency that things he felt were necessarily true.  The word also emerged in response to claims by the administration that the War in Iraq was about finding Weapons of Mass Destruction. You can watch the segment where he calls the WMD justification a flat out lie here:

It didn’t take long for “;truthiness” to enter widespread use and it was named the Word of the Year by Webster’s in 2006.  In those early days, the word held the punch of satire and it encouraged critical thinking about the ways that truth was increasingly absent from policy decisions, media coverage, and public perceptions.

But whatever the context for the word’s role in 2005, we have clearly hit a new era in political discourse where truthiness trumps truth all the time with little, if any, repercussions.  The proof is in last week’s Republican National Convention where truthiness was alarmingly on display at a rate we have never seen in U.S. history.

The worrying trend today is that even when there is abundant evidence of lying, there are no repercussions. It’s a case of lying and loving it. And it needs to be stopped. If on Election Day we no longer care about the difference between truth and truthiness, then the joke will be on us.

Read the full blog on *Huffington Post *here.

Is it Stupid to Study Colbert?

Stephen Colbert just can’t seem to stop causing trouble. First, he stood not 20 feet from President Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner and tore down the unpopular president with a mock-laudatory speech that went viral overnight. Then, he ceased merely reporting on the ripples in the pond and started jumping in to make his own ripples when he tried to run for president in South Carolina in 2008, sponsored by Doritos, and later testified before Congress on immigration (2010). Shortly after Glenn Beck drew a modest crowd to the National Mall, he and Jon Stewart drew a much bigger crowd to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in advance of the 2010 mid-term elections. More recently, he took the unprecedented step of founding his own Political Action Committee (2011), and then undertook a nearly successful effort to use some of the $1.3 million it raised tosponsor the Republican primary in South Carolina in 2012.

Along the way, as if that weren’t enough, he has coaxed fans to alter Wikipedia entries, tweet incessant non-facts about Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, and vote for Colbert to host the Swedish Twitter site. Each of these “;stunts” has led to media criticism that he has pushed his satire too far, and into places where it doesn’t belong.

Again and again, Colbert has been called out for not staying within the bounds of his role as a comedian and entertainer. But now, it seems, he’s really overstepped. He’s become the subject of study at our nation’s universities with books and articles and classes dedicated to him. This guy just can’t be stopped!  Read more here.

What I'm Watching: July 4, 2012

Stephen Colbert has called us losers. He got us (and 999 other fan groups based at universities) to buy his Super Fun Pack, filled it with what seemed like a series of gag items, and then asked us all to solve an extremely complex treasure hunt. If we solved it, we would get him to visit our school. So, even though we weren’t exclusively interested in the treasure hunt part of the game, of course we wanted first prize. But we didn’t get it. So, instead we are gunning for second prize.

Read more about the story here.

Interview: Colbert News Hub The Nation’s News Leader

Colbert News Hub interviewed me on my latest book, Colbert’s America. Read the full interview here.

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Nancy Pelosi Succumbs to the Power of Colbert

“Nancy Pelosi Succumbs to the Power of Colbert” appeared in the Huffington Post, February 24, 2012.'

Where's the Outrage? It Takes Comedians to Stand Up to Newt's Hypocrisy

“Where’s the Outrage? It Takes Comedians to Stand Up to Newt’s Hypocrisy” appeared in the Huffington Post, January 27, 2012."

What's So Funny? Why Colbert Is Funny and Cain Is Not

“What’s So Funny? Why Colbert Is Funny and Cain Is Not” appeared in the Huffington Post, January 23, 2012."

PAC Daddy: Colbert Makes Civics Lessons Fun

“PAC Daddy: Colbert Makes Civics Lessons Fun” appeared in the Huffington Post, January 16, 2012.