Stephen Colbert rarely has anything good to say about what President Obama does and his new choice for attorney general is no different. On his show last night, the conservative satirist covered the recent news about ISIS, Obama bowing in China and capped it off with an interview, but the high point of the episode was the “compliment” he paid to conservative news site Breitbart. In the popular “Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger” segment, Colbert discussed his opposition to Loretta Lynch being the possible next attorney general. Breitbart’s crack reporting revealed that Lynch had been part of the Whitewater scandal during the Clinton years, but there was just one problem: it was a different Loretta Lynch. Colbert tipped his hat to Breitbart for the accuracy of their reporting and their unique correction process, giving them the complimentary title of “political hatchet men” for their efforts.
Colbert knows that when it comes to political comedy, sometimes the jokes just write themselves. In the case of the Breitbart segment, he barely had to write any down at all. The story has been widely reported on by the media which is quick to police one of their own. When President Obama announced that United States Attorney Loretta Lynch was his pick to replace Eric Holder as the nation’s attorney general, his political opponents were quick to criticize. The partisan Breitbart site did an expose on Lynch, reporting that she was one of Bill Clinton’s defense attorneys during the Whitewater proceedings. The headline of that article read “Obama’s new attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch represented Clintons during Whitewater.” This was a bit of a coup for Republicans who could object to her appointment based on her involvement in the famous scandal.
There was just one problem. The Loretta Lynch who represented the Clintons is a white woman and the Loretta Lynch who could be the next attorney general is a black woman. As Colbert noted on his show, the two have such similar names that it would help if there was an easy way to tell them apart. If confirmed, the correct Loretta Lynch would be the first black woman to serve as attorney general, a landmark accomplishment both for her and for the nation.
But Colbert was not going to let Lynch and Obama get off so easy. He supported Breitbart’s efforts to reveal the truth, even if it was about the wrong person. But what he was really happy about was the way that the site handled the correction of its factual error. They added the word “corrected” to the end of the title and added a single sentence at the end of the article stating that there had been a mix-up of Lorettas. Colbert gave a tip of his hat to Breitbart’s political hatchet men for sticking with the completely wrong story and adding only a small correction, thereby allowing readers to continue in error.
Colbert ended the segment by giving Breitbart the sincerest form of flattery: imitation. He gave his compliments to Breitbart for “finding out that [the story is] broken, and then sticking with the story anyway.” He followed the same line of action when he reported that Breitbart is a team of “craven political hatchet men” because they refused to remove a headline they knew was patently false. The only problem was that Breitbart actually did eventually take down both article and headline after a time. Thus Colbert issued his own correction: “They are craven political hatchet men (corrected),” he concluded.
The Colbert Report’s “Tip of the Hat” to Breitbart may be some of the biggest coverage the snafu will receive. Factual errors and retractions are not uncommon in journalism, especially in the age of Twitter where information may or may not be verified before it hits the web. The partisan nature of Breitbart’s reporting, however, is what makes their shoddy and slow correction such big news. PolitiFact reported on the issue as well, concluding with the hope that correct information would spread as quickly as the misinformation had. That is the crux of the problem, however. Breitbart did not do its utmost to make sure the right information reached the world. Instead, it stalled, did a bad job of correcting and allowed people who only read headlines to believe the error. This is not just bad journalistic practice; it is a not-so-subtle political hack job. Thus, while Colbert’s tip to Breitbart and its “political hatchet men” was funny, it was also a very necessary expose. As far as journalism goes, a comedian outdid an actual news organization. Colbert deserves his own tip of the hat.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury