The New Communication With Stephen Colbert

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 06, 2006 8:02 AM

I blogged Friday about how House Republicans had a couple bloggers in to talk about how to use blogging as a weapon in their communications arsenals.

During the event, a special guest dropped by to talk about a different kind of communication. Stephen Colbert, of "The Colbert Report" and formerly of "The Daily Show," sat on the panel for a few minutes and gave tips for staffers trying to convince their bosses to go on one of Comedy Central's fake news shows.

"I'm not an assassin," he said, emphasizing that his goal is to make himself look like an idiot, not his guests.

Staffers and politicians are understandably concerned about this kind of appearance. The audience is large and of a slightly different demographic than Fox News. Politicians can't easily control the interview by steering back to talking points because Colbert is just as likely to ask where a Representative got his dye job as he is to ask about the Patriot Act.

But Colbert said there's something in it for the politicians. First, they get lots of exposure to a young audience that doesn't normally pay attention to politics. Second, Colbert said he gives each guest on his show a few of their talking points in the interview.

From where I sit, and it may be because I'm young, I think doing these shows is a great idea for Congressmen. The audience that watches them understands they're not real. They understand that the Congressman is not expected to look on "The Daily Show" the same way he looks on "Meet the Press." The expectations are entirely different. Every time I see a politician on one of those shows, I don't think, "wow, what an idiot he looks like." I think, "wow, what a good sport he's being."

I think it's particularly helpful for a Republican's image to appear on one of the shows. Warranted or not, Republicans have a greater presumption of stick-in-the-mudness to overcome with the American people. Appearing on Comedy Central is a great way to show Republicans can make fun of themselves a little, lighten up just a bit.

Jack Kingston's office invited Colbert to the event. Kingston has appeared on "The Colbert Report" and his staffers recommended it to everyone present. Several months since the taping, they said, they still get comments at the end of many constituent letters saying, "Saw you on 'The Colbert Report.' You were hilarious!" When Kingston is back home in his district, people stop him in the grocery store to tell him they loved the segment. They never stop to talk to him about a "Face the Nation" appearance.

Kingston's office has embraced both the blogosphere and the art of self-deprecation via Comedy Central. Here's the proof-- a blog entry pointing everyone to Kingston's "Colbert Report" appearance. Go watch it. It's hilarious.

My Congressman Jim Moran's segment is great, too.

I think Comedy Central is a scary place for politicians just as the blogosphere is. It's a little unpredictable; there is no guarantee that the image a Member ends up projecting will be entirely as he plans it. But both are new forms of reaching people and both are a lot of fun. I think the folks who shield themselves from all the fun because they're scared of the unpredictability are missing out on really useful forms of communication.

Kingston's blog has pictures of the event up. You can see your humble blogger way in the back of the picture on the front page. I'm at the end of the panel. You can barely see me, but I'm the one who's not male, so it's easy to pick me out.

Danny Glover of National Journal has a great wrap-up on the whole event.