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Hollywood Left Behind: Stephen Colbert's Truthiness Will Set You Free

Article excerpt

Poor Daryl Hannah. For all of her trouble getting arrested in front of the White House on Aug. 30, she received with nothing but a few tepid "Splash" references and was the butt of a joke in Washington's newspaper of record. Doesn't the former 1980s eye-candy star know that corn porn will beat angry mermaids every time?

It remains unclear whether Hannah managed to bring any more public awareness to her cause--stopping construction of an Alberta-to-Houston tar sand oil pipeline--than the non-celebrity protesters sitting on the sidewalk in front of the White House did. After snarking, "Hannah and her resisters ... arrested for a good cause. Yawn," the Washington Post couldn't be troubled to tell us what tar sand is, much less why we should be wary of it.

In contrast, political satirist Stephen Colbert shows Hannah how it's done. Colbert wants everyone to know how ludicrous he thinks so-called Super Political Action Committees (PACs) are, so he went to the Federal Election Commission June 30 and got the green light to start his own. After taping the tedious proceedings inside the FEC chambers, for use later on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," he emerged victorious in his Bill O'Reilly-inspired alter ego to a press conference outside. As fans held signs that said, "cash and checks only," Colbert declared, "I don't know about you, but I do not accept limits on my free speech. I do not accept the status quo. But I do accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express. Fifty dollars or less, please, then I do not need to keep a record."

Colbert's satire inspired by recent Supreme Court rulings, including the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited cash contributions to PACs from corporations, unions, and other organizations-- thus was born the "Super PAC," the hottest buzzword for wily campaign fundraising since the phrase "527 group" hit the scene in 2004.

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"I believe that the Citizens United decision was the right one," he told Politico when filing the FEC papers for his PAC--Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

"There should be unlimited corporate money, and I want some of it. I don't want to be the one chump who doesn't have any."

He may be spoofing, but he's not kidding. Using his wildly popular nightly cable program--which averages 1.5 million viewers a night and beats titans like Jay Leno among the 18 to 34 age demographic--he raised enough money to air two ads during the Ames Straw Poll in August. Taking direct aim at the pandering and the disproportionate resources poured into this quadrennial Midwestern event, the ad, funded and approved by Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, insists in a classic Colbert voiceover that it does better "cornography" than its competitors, including the pro-Rick Perry "Jobs for Iowa" Super PAC.

Colbert's ad goes a step further and asks Iowa voters to write in Perry on the ballot (the Texas governor had not yet declared at the time) by spelling "Parry with an A,' that's 'A' for America, with 'A' for Iowa." The state GOP has so far refused to announce just how many voters did that--but the number of headlines generated by the ad, the bashing Colbert gave to a local television station that wouldn't air it, and news that his PAC's treasurer left to work for Perry have done more for Colbert's crusade than any effort to generate outrage by say, Ben Affleck or Tim Robbins.

"Colbert is not just another comedian with barbed punch lines and a racy vocabulary. He is a guerrilla fighter, a master of the old-world art of irony," offered writer Michael Scherer in 2006, shortly after Colbert's nuclear takedown of President George W. Bush, to his face, at that year's Washington Correspondents Dinner, the annual narcissistic convergence of Washington-Hollywood-Press elite.

"The depth of his attack caused bewilderment on the face of the president and some of the press, who, like myopic fish, are used to ignoring the water that sustains them. …