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And the Late Night Comedians Shall Lead Us

[Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. Image from] [Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. Image from]

For those of you lucky readers who are able to access Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya on your televisions, you can stop reading now. This is for those of us, in the US, who either have to sleep with our laptops streaming the “real” news or who, for fear that our batteries may die, have to set our cell phone alarm clocks to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to watch reporting of a firefight in Benghazi or the de-powerification of another corrupt politician in (pick one) Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain (and the list goes on). You lucky Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya subscribers can pity us, for indeed we deserve your pity. But we are not completely without our own reliable time-sensitive news sources here in the real-news-wasteland known as The United States (Democracy Now being the one exception—but again, most of us have to stream it as if it was, gasp, Al Jazeera). We who want to watch our own TVs have late night comedy “news” to keep ourselves informed about Middle East politics. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have served as an (pick one or both) informational echo chamber/amplifier of Middle East revolutions. Missed Al Jazeera for the day? Then record and enjoy what Jon Stewart and his Daily Show crew describe as reporting about “Mess O’ East-o-Potamia.”

Just to give you a taste of what you (real-news-consumers) who are blocked (by licensing agreements that preclude viewer access from outside the territorial US except for overseas military bases) from seeing what we (real-news-deprived audiences) can see (on late night comedy shows), whet your (fake/comedic-news-deprived) appetites on what we (not-ready-for-real-news-audiences) get to feast on (after 11:00 p.m. thanks to Comedy Central ): On February 28, Stephen Colbert hosted the CIA’s now-retired Bin Laden-hunter, Michael Scheuer, who was flaking his new book, Osama Bin Laden. But first, let me put the “Colbert” phenomenon into context: He is a reactionary poseur whose (comedic) signature line is: “George Bush: great president, or the greatest president?” Hosting Scheuer actually proved to be a quadruple entendre for Colbert. On the one hand, Scheuer is a Fox News-worthy Islamophobe whose curriculum vitae is upholstered with Code Orange alarmism about jihadists “everywhere.” But on the other hand, his shtick—and his new book—is a bipartisan critique of Democratic and Republican presidents (read: Clinton, Bush and Obama) for totally f#%@king up the mission to “keep America safe” from al-Qaeda.

It would be a “mere” double entendre if Scheuer stopped at placing part of the panic-blame on Bush’s lap, for that would defy the “GOP-hates-terrorists-more-than-Dems” mantra that poseur Colbert likes to channel. But here’s what sends “Colbert” into the quadruple summersault: Scheuer says, “What people who read the book will find out is that Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have been lying to us.” Colbert (“Colbert”), duly (comedically) flabbergasted, responds: “You said Clinton, right? He was first, right? So it’s his fault, right? He’s the one who leaves the problem for everyone else…If I don’t clean up the kitchen, it’s my fault, not the next guy’s, right?” Some blah blah. Then, kaboom: Scheuer: “Each president has lied to the American people about what the war [on terror] is about. They keep telling us they hate us for our freedom…If that was true, we would not have a problem. They would not even be a lethal nuisance. They hate us for our foreign policy.” Colbert, after a stunned moment, says, “It’s been a long time since I met one of you. You’re part of the ‘blame America first’ crowd.” Scheuer: “It’s not that our foreign policy is wrong, but it is their motivation.” Colbert: “So what’s the lie we are being told?” Scheuer: “That Israel is not a problem in our foreign policy, that our support for Arab tyrannies over the last 50 years is not a problem….The Arab world is not going to forget that the US has supported Arab tyrannies for the last 50 years….This war has barely begun because the American people don’t have a CLUE about why we are being attacked.” Scheuer then provides a crazy-talk assessment of how Saddam and Mubarak “kept Israel safe” but, as he acknowledges, it’s all over now, baby blue. At this point, had I been in the audience,  I would have elbowed my way to the front of any line to mock, ridicule and humiliate Scheuer about his role as an apologist for the American torture policy (e.g., terrorists only understand you’re serious if you waterboard them). But kudos to Colbert for giving him a platform to vent about American intelligence/security incompetence to an audience who, but for Comedy Central, would never have heard of “al-Qaeda.” (Yes, you can lavish more o-my-god-you’re-so-pathetic pity upon us now. Your pity is our manna, and we are trying to survive in the newless desert.)

 Next door at The Daily Show, the shtick isn’t reactionary poseurism. Rather, it’s “isn’t the world so f#%#cked up, and here’s why” comedic-reality-news. On March 1, the guest would have been and was supposed to have been King Abdullah of Jordan. But Lil Ab decided that it was an unpropitious time to leave the region (got a kingdom to defend from democracy-seekers, after all), so in his stead appeared Jordan’s UN diplomat, Zeid Ra’ad, flacking Lil Ab’s new book, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril. The times they must appear “perilous” if Tahrir protesters don’t subscribe to the Hashemite plutocracy doctrine. The horror! How did Ra’ad comport himself for the (majority stoner) audience of Comedy Central (i.e., pass the hookah). Stewart: “Is the situation so dire in Jordan right now that the king cannot come on a cable comedy program?” Ra’ad: “He is trying to assist others [read: Qaddafi]. It’s clear that he needs to be in the region…He’s trying to assist others and trying  to understand what’s happening. It’s amazing what’s happened in the last two and a half months in the region since that hero, Muhammad Bouzaziz, in Tunisia, martyred himself, lit himself [ablaze], what has happened in the Middle East and how much change has happened, and all of that is linked back to that one event when the fruit seller was manhandled by a municipal official [sic]. So fast has this change occurred and so inspirational has been this expression of people power and what it can do in peaceful circumstances—except in Libya where we see this horrendous attack on the people—of course his majesty felt that he must stay in the region so that he can listen to the people of Jordan…Hollywood might believe that it’s ‘The King’s Speech’ but in Jordan the king is listening.”  Ra’ad, the king’s book flaker, states the prescience of the king (the book appeared last September) by pressing a need to “listen to the young people.” Diplomatic ass waxing: “We Jordanians still think of ourselves as a family. Last week, I was in Liberia and I spoke to all the Jordanian peacekeepers serving there. They represent a broad spectrum of Jordanian society. They said, ‘We do have concerns, we do have relatives who are unemployed. But we know that his majesty is leading us in the right direction.’” This interview will be an iconic “last gasp” video in the post-Hashemite Jordanian future.

On last night’s Daily Show, Stewart took on the American superstars who have whored themselves for the entertainment of the Qaddafi clan. Ready to give back the million bucks, Beyonce? Then he turns his attention to the latest fashion-dictatorial no no: “No wonder you’re wearing sunglasses. You’re high!...WTF Libya was on the (UN) Human Rights Counci? Huh? Was Libya a cautionary tale? You gotta know when to fold ‘em.” Enter comedy-journalist Wyatt Cenac: “Well, Qaddafi’s got to realize that these dictatorships, they don’t end pretty. Best case scenario, he’s going to end up like Papa Doc Duvalier—villa in the south of France. But most likely, he’s ending up on a meat hook in the public square.” Stewart: “So he’s going the full Mussolini?” Cenac: “Yea, his options have narrowed down to how he’s going to die…I’d lay money on self-inflicted bunker bullet. Tries to escape in a hot air balloon, shot down, then smothered by toddlers… The point is that Qaddafi’s been fired, but he keeps showing up for work. He’s the George Coustanza of Libya.”  For those of us who can identify Libya and Coustanza and Haiti in our political imaginary, this shit’s priceless. But I’d trade it in a second for 24-hour access to Al Jazeera.

4 comments for "And the Late Night Comedians Shall Lead Us"


You forget about Bill Maher !

yayaver wrote on March 03, 2011 at 08:47 AM

we are all trying to forget about bill maher

mattas wrote on March 03, 2011 at 02:36 PM

YES, forget that guy, he equated the hijab with a KKK mask. He is a ...

KGC wrote on March 03, 2011 at 08:40 PM

really, really? Does aljazeera tell you stories about people like my bahraini taxi driver who says he loves to go to pearl roundabout because everything is free (food etc.) and withdrew BD500 from the atm and waved it in my face, saying it was a gift from the king? Hypocrites? Those of us in Bahrain are truly disillusioned by all the news media including aljazeera because we were here and what they report is not what we see happening. All we see is dramatic one sided news. We are wondering where the aljazeera bahrain is located in the world. It certainly isn't here.

sophie wrote on March 05, 2011 at 06:22 AM

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