Truth or Truthiness: How Colbert is taking over television

by Brian Burns
Walter Cronkite.  Tom Brokaw.  Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.  In their respective times, these men were the faces of news.  Now, we can add a new name to that list: Stephen Colbert.  While Brinkley, Huntley, Brokaw and Cronkite were determined to deliver the news to the American public, Colbert upholds his own unusual values: honor and “truthiness.”  His show The Colbert Report (that’s pronounced kohl-BAIR re-POR), a spin on conservative news shows, has grown in popularity since its debut on Comedy Central in 2005. 
The show that spawned it, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has higher ratings than any program on Fox News Channel.  These programs look at the news of the day through a specific lens: comedy. However, in poking fun at the news, they have become a major source of information for viewers.
Stewart and Colbert are popular with teens because they reflect the cynicism of modern America toward the “establishment,” be that the government or the media.  High school students can no longer appreciate the reporting of age-old news sources, in all their morose detail.  Cable shows like Colbert’s skew the buttoned-up traditions of the networks, pushing teens to choose the laughs over the stoic reporting of news.
“The fact that they are always making jokes makes it easier to watch. You get information and entertainment,” said senior Matt Monroy, a Colbert fan.
The question is whether kids can tell the difference between the comedy and “real” reporting, or if there even is a difference.  Is it acceptable to have news filtered through comedy, especially by as idiotic a character as Colbert’s?
“Seeing it just as a political satire, I can’t take [shows like Colbert] seriously,” said senior Jim Healey. “I can learn from it, but I can’t use their analysis.  I have to do research on my own.”
Some doubt that traditional news sources will ever be replaced by Colbert because of satire’s nature.
“If you watch the The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, you have to know the news to get the jokes.  What they’re trying to do is inject humor into otherwise depressing news.  They’re trying to show a brighter side of it,” said AP Government and Politics teacher Brooke Wagner.
Few comedy teams have done more to affect politics than the Stewart/Colbert combo platter has.  In 2010, Colbert testified, in character, in front of a Congressional hearing on illegal farm workers.  He even established his own Super PAC, a political committee that can raise unlimited funds for political ads, last September.  One of his early ads encouraged voters at a straw poll in Ames, Iowa, to vote for Republican Presidential candidate Rick Parry, deliberately misspelling Texas governor Perry’s name.
Shows like Colbert and The Daily Show have served to shape students’ political perceptions, even if they are considered fake news shows.
The popularity of these “news” shows is only growing, so much so that Colbert had a short-lived presidential campaign in 2008.  He recently announced his candidacy yet again. Could we soon be voting for a president Colbert? Who would be laughing then?