Faux newsman and comedian Stephen Colbert will appear before a House Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow on illegal immigrants and farm labor. The details are kind of sketchy, but there are some reports that Colbert will testify in his on-screen character of a blustery conservative pundit.
Now, I am a card-carrying member of the Colbert Nation, but this is a bad idea all around. And it shows just how broken Congress is, and how far the quality of hearings has fallen. I’ve covered Washington since 2002, and they seem to get worse and worse each year.
It’s an open secret in Washington that very little real news is made at congressional hearings. Sure, there are a few dedicated lawmakers who actually care about the nuts-and-bolts issues that make the government run, and their incisive questions sometimes do move the ball forward. But most just pop in and out of hearings to ask questions that are either painfully superficial or thinly-veiled political statements designed to grandstand for the TV cameras. Some don’t even stick around to hear the answers, and split as soon as they’re done yelling.
We’re a long way from the Watergate or Army-McCarthy hearings. Because the questioning is so vapid these days, witnesses who should be nailed to the wall can squeak through by sticking to their talking points. (See: April’s Goldman Sachs hearings, where the major news was the fact that Sen. Carl Levin used the word s****y about a dozen times.)
And since the name of the game is getting media attention in the 24-hour news cycle to fuel reelection bids — not hard-hitting investigations — lawmakers resort to gimmicky hearings and celebrity witnesses. There’s no real reason to have Colbert talk about the plight of the migrant farm worker, besides allowing some politicians to glom onto his fame. Same thing with yesterday’s hearing on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in which the House Homeland Security Committee invited actor Kevin Costner, of all people, to testify. (But to be fair, anyone who’s seen Waterworld knows Costner is an expert on sea-based bombs.) (rimshot)
As for Colbert, he’s got nothing really to gain from this, besides risking his reputation as a keen satirist. A March to Keep Fear Alive is one thing, but cozying up to the political class he should be skewering is something else entirely.