Since Stephen Colbert rarely breaks character, it's possible on occasion to forget that his Report persona is a send-up of hyperbole-prone cable media. But its interviews like this one with the New York Times that are reminders of his real views on the evolving media landscape: there's not much "straight news" left. Most newsmen, anchors and reporters have a penchant for "telling you how to feel" about a story.
Colbert's moment of nostalgia arrives while dissecting his favorite film, Network, and touching on the tragic downfall of the Glenn Beck prototype Howard Beale. (If you're unfamiliar with the character's place in cinematic history, this scene where the TV anchor first implodes live on the air uttering the iconic catch-all refrain "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" will give you a taste.) The Comedy Central host then describes how he feels about Network's prescience:
New York Times: "what do you think Network got right, in terms of predicting the present-day media landscape?"
“I will tell you what to think.” That’s what it prefigures most of all. “I will tell you what to think, and how to feel.” [Beale is] doing it in a quasi-benevolent way, which is, I’m going to remind you that you’re being anesthetized right now. That’s what they get right, in terms of what you see on TV. That is a great bulk of what happens with news now. And not just the nighttime people that I’m sort of a parody of, not just the opinion-making people but even what is left of straight news. Howard Beale is a precursor of people who are telling you how you feel.
It's an interesting remark for an admired TV host who, along with Jon Stewart, is often filed in the more-than-just-a-comedian category. Colbert, we think, is one of the very best at subtly "telling us how to feel" about the news.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.