The former host of the “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central has taken over the reins of CBS’s “The Late Show” from the recently retired David Letterman. Colbert made his network debut on Sept. 9 to 6.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
That was twice as many as his closest competitor.
Colbert is bringing his political knowledge to his new show and is doing so in a big way; he is now portraying himself on camera and not a character, as he had previously done. In humorously addressing this, he said, “I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit – now I’m just a narcissist.”
Media coverage of politics
The media has been seriously lacking a political voice of reason for quite a long time. Colbert is presenting an outlet for the American public to experience the political landscape of the country in a balanced and responsible way.
Colbert has come out of the corner swinging when it comes to politics into his show. He has been inviting many political leaders to come on as guests. More importantly, the leaders he invited have had to answer some hard questions that most people wouldn’t expect from a late night comedy show.
The leading Republican primary candidate Donald Trump, who currently leads the field with 27 percent of Republicans nationally according to Public Policy Polling, was a guest on Colbert’s program on Sept. 22. Colbert asked Trump if he was willing to say that President Barack Obama was indeed an American citizen.
Trump became the face of the birther movement over four years ago, while trying to pick up support for a run in the 2012 election.
“People have birth certificates,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly in March 2011. “He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim.”
When Colbert pressed on this, Trump simply answered, “I don’t talk about it anymore.”
This was a legitimate question that needed to be asked. Does the Grand Old Party front-runner still hold his ridiculous belief that the leader of the U.S. is not actually a citizen? Trump could have bitten the bullet and admitted he was wrong and possibly even apologized for the amount of disrespect he had shown the president. But instead, he chose not to address it.
These are the kind of questions needed to be asked and it seems like Colbert is the only one doing it.
Entertainment versus substance
The starkest comparison in late night that can be made was Hillary Clinton’s recent appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” The former Secretary of State is leading the Democratic primary at 41 percent, according to a recent USA Today poll. This sit down could have provided the people with an excellent chance to get to know Clinton better.
Fallon dropped the ball, however. Nothing of substance came with Clinton’s appearance.
First, Clinton appeared in a sketch with Fallon where he impersonated Trump. The whole thing was built to poke fun at Trump’s appearance, demeanor and statements made during his campaign.
While funny, nothing really interesting or informative came from it.
Then she sat down to be interviewed by Fallon, which consisted of a series of softball questions he tossed to her. She responded with the same lines she always uses in regards to women’s issues, debt reduction and income inequality. Lots of nice sounding things with no real details about how to achieve them.
Fallon did hint at an attempt of in-depth interviewing when he brought up the Benghazi email scandal Clinton currently finds herself in. He asked in a semi-exasperated tone, “Can you just say what’s in the emails? That’s all we want to know.”
Clinton responded with, “They are boring.” She then went on to try to make a joke out of it and Fallon let it go.
There was a chance for some real political ground to be covered and nothing came of it. People walked away from that interview with no more knowledge of the situation than before watching her speak on it.
Chances are, if this was Colbert doing the interview, there would have been a much more in depth analysis of the issue and at least the effort would have been made to seek clarity from this person seeking the highest office in the land.
Respect is crucial in political discussions
Cable news has corrupted the political discussion in this country by having hosts who show disrespect and poor conduct when trying to convey their points or while interviewing guests on their shows. It ranges from Bill O’Reilly on the right to Chris Matthews on the left. Both of these men give unquestionably biased questions to guests, interrupt and talk over others, and show a lack of respect when hearing opinions contrary to their own.
Colbert has shown he is making an effort to conduct himself as well as his show in a gentlemanly manner.
This was on display when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was on the show and the question of gay marriage came up. Cruz argued that he believes gay marriage is an issue for the states to decide under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. Members of the audience became vocal in their opposition to Cruz’s stance that the federal government should not aid in the fight for marriage equality in America.
Colbert instantly reacted upon the negative reaction from his audience saying to them, “No, no, no. Guys, guys – however you feel, he is my guest so please don’t boo him.”
Colbert could have easily let the crowd jump all over Cruz, but he didn’t. He showed class in allowing the presidential candidate to state his opinion, no matter how unpopular it might be.
This is what politics needs today more than ever. Mutual respect, so that the exchange of ideas can be done in way where everybody can express themselves openly. This is becoming less and less common in today’s media.
Thankfully Colbert realizes this and acts accordingly.
Colbert is taking the first steps to making the media a positive part of politics again. Holding politicians accountable and doing it in a respectful way is what America needs to see when they turn on the TV before going to sleep.
With Colbert leading the way, hopefully citizens will be able to become a more informed electorate and thus make the country stronger when it comes to the serious issues facing us all.
Brent Kennedy is a senior in political science.