Let's face it: Some in the Washington press corps still resent Stephen Colbert because he so brilliantly lampooned them to their faces at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner over their coziness with the Bush White House.
Yesterday, some elite journalists couldn't contain their anger after Colbert testified before Congress on behalf of immigrant farm workers — mostly in character (with some funny and not-so-funny jokes) and partly in total seriousness: "I like talking about people who don't have any power and it seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are the migrant workers who come and do our work and don't have any rights as a result . And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave."
Thanks to Colbert, a hearing on migrant workers that would have been ignored by mainstream journalists was jam-packed with mainstream journalists.
But hosting "Hardball" last night, NBC's Chuck Todd was beside himself: "A lot of us frankly are offended." He suggested Congress members should have walked out of the hearing room as Colbert testified.
Ironically, Todd made the Colbert appearance his top story.
And that's a good thing — because the plight of migrant farm workers is otherwise ignored on "Hardball." I did a quick NEXIS search for variations of "immigrant farm workers" or "migrant farm labor" and found about three mentions in the last decade.
On last night's ABC World News Tonight, correspondent Jonathan Karl did a piece on Colbert on Capitol Hill; Karl rushed up to Colbert, gotcha-style, as soon as he finished testifying and asked if he was "worried about trivializing such a serious issue."
If it's such a "serious issue," why has ABC World News offered such spotty coverage? It's been almost a year since Brian Ross's strong piece on child labor. According to NEXIS, there was a solid report a year before that on farm workers in the heat wave. I found a passing reference in 2009 to an astronaut being the son of migrant farm workers, and a 2008 story on a man's journey "from an illegal migrant farm worker to world-class brain surgeon."
If that's how ABC World News covers "serious issues" of human rights, it's Jonathan Karl who needs to answer about "trivialization."
Not Stephen Colbert.
Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). His latest book is Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.