September 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm #111770
Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachsParticipant
As reported in “The Upshot”, a Yahoo! News Blog:
Stephen Colbert brought a dose of his trademark “truthiness” in testimony before a House subcommittee hearing Friday on the conditions
faced by the nation’s farmworkers. The encounter produced some awkward
moments and pointed asides — beginning nearly at the outset, when House
Judiciary Chairman John Conyers requested that Colbert refrain from
testifying and submit only written comments.
Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren of California, in her opening statement, commended Colbert for using his celebrity to draw media attention to the
“Maybe it was [President Clinton’s] impeachment? But it’s been a long time since we’ve had this kind of coverage,” Lofgren said.
The overall tone of Friday’s hearing was serious: a discussion on the future of the American farm industry, which heavily relies on illegal
immigrants as workers. But Colbert — who plays an intemperate,
right-leaning Bill O’Reilly-style host on “The Colbert Report” —
remained in character, peppering his testimony with sarcastic comments,
which gently mocked himself as well as the staid atmosphere of the
hearing room. Watch Colbert’s opening statement:
Colbert joked of his “vast experience” as a farm laborer, which consisted of one day spent picking vegetables — an experience that grew
out of an on-air interview with Lofgren.
One way to address the labor ills of the agricultural sector, Colbert joked, is for Americans to “stop eating fruits and
vegetables … and if you look at obesity statistics, people already
have.” Colbert added that his gastroenterologist had suggested that most
such food is unnecessary roughage. Colbert called to submit a video of
his colonoscopy into the record.
Colbert also suggested Americans find plants that “pick themselves” and raise the soil level so workers don’t have to bend over.
The crowd occasionally burst into laughter during Colbert’s remarks, while some Democratic members and their staff
smirked from their perches in the hearing room. Most of the committee’s
Republican members did not appear amused.
After Colbert’s five-minute statement, Conyers noted that Colbert’s remarks dramatically differed from the prepared testimony
Republicans and Democrats alike challenged Colbert’s presence before and even during the hearing. “Would you call yourself an
expert witness when it comes to our labor issues or not?” Rep. Lamar
Smith (R-Texas) asked the talk show host. Colbert responded that he was
testifying at Lofgren’s invitation.
California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu noted that Republicans have also proposed celebrity witnesses in the past, such as
Loretta Swit from television show “MASH.” Lofgren, for her part,
compared Colbert to celebrities such as Bono and Angelina Jolie, who had
also used their renown to publicize important causes on Capitol Hill.
Colbert said he was “happy to use my celebrity to draw attention” to
this issue, and joked that he hoped his presence would bump coverage of
the committee hearings “all the way up to CSPAN1.” (The hearing was
shown on CSPAN3.)
During the hearing, members and speakers addressed the United Farm
Workers’ “Take Our Jobs” effort, which seeks to place unemployed
Americans in farming jobs. Lofgren and others said the effort has been
widely unsuccessful, in part because illegal immigrants are the only
ones willing to do the jobs.
But Rep. Steve King of Iowa — the committee’s ranking Republican — and
other GOP committee members argued that the real problem lies with
agricultural employers who fail to provide attractive jobs that appeal
to legal Americans. Americans will do the work, King contended — “they
just want to be paid a respectable wage” for it.
Conyers invited King to work together to get more Americans in
farmworker jobs — a challenge King said he would accept, even though
Conyers clearly believed that such an initiative would not pan out.
And in winding down his own remarks, Colbert got serious for a moment,
leaving no doubt which side of the issue he came down on. He wanted to
appear before the committee in order to speak up for farmworkers, he
said, because “migrant workers suffer and they have no rights.”
September 24, 2010 at 8:29 pm #111782
If Stephen Colbert can use his celebrity status to bring more attention to this issue, good for him. It would be interesting to read the “prepared testimony”!,
September 25, 2010 at 5:49 pm #111780
I think it would have been more effective if Mr. Colbert had not appeared in character, but rather as someone who has undoubtedly been in the public spotlight and able to see how the issue has affected everyday Americans. This would have been a better way to go, rather than the comedy act.
September 25, 2010 at 7:15 pm #111778
Slightly disappointed Mr. Conyers’ outrightly asked Colbert to… “leave!”
After all, it’s a public, non-closed door hearing, and Colbert’s just a disagreable yet harmless comedian displaying freedom of (non-violent) speech rights.
Figure Conyer’s constituents may remember this attempted trampling on the public’s right to non-violent freedom and, ask him to “leave” at next election.
September 26, 2010 at 1:14 pm #111776
Have to admit it was a bit disrespectful to the institution, but they knew what they were getting. They should have known, anyway. Using his celebrity was his goal, and I think he achieved it by bringing some humor to an issue that gets little attention.
September 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm #111774
I have nothing much to say on the issue, except that Elmo testified before Congress about school funding for music programs.
September 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm #111772
Given a choice between Lady Gaga and Stephen Colbert, I suspect the more cogent testimony, though oblique it may be, would be from Mr. Colbert. His comment about wanting tomatoes picked by an American, but sliced by a Mexican and served to him by a Venezuelan while he receives a Brazilian at a Chilean spa, provided more food for thought than the average bafflegab by committee witnesses.
On the other hand, I just hope that it doesn’t set a precedent for the nature of subcommittee testimony. Once in a while you do need a taste of the counterintuitive to keep you honest. A steady diet of it, though, can quickly cheapen thinking.
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