The report on CIA torture is worldwide news, so it is just big enough to catch the eye of The Colbert Report‘s titular host. Last night, Colbert spent time analysing the ubiquitous torture report, something he found nearly as torturous as the actual interrogation. Armed with a pair of “tragedy cancelling headphones” that play nothing but Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and accompanied by the director of the National Security Archive, Colbert delved into the report and the even more icky reporting from FOX News about it. By the end, most viewers probably felt like they needed some of T. Swift’s obnoxiously upbeat tunes as well.
At the start of the show, Colbert announced that he was “beside myself with anger and he’s mad, too” about the release of the Senate’s report into CIA torture. He characterized it as “50 Shades of Legal Gray Areas” and warned that “there’s a little bondage.” But far less titillating than the original erotica, this report had some of the most damning evidence of American torture practices ever released to the public. Nevertheless, the eternally optimistic host noted that former President George W. Bush came off looking pretty good, particularly the part where he made sure no one told him anything because he might accidentally mention it to the wrong people. Ignorance is bliss, the old saying goes, but for Bush and Colbert it also seems to be a good impression.
Some of the media coverage of the report, particularly that from FOX News, was even more hilarious than Colbert himself. The best moment was perhaps when a FOX personality did a quick correct while saying that he supported the use of torture… except he meant enhanced interrogation techniques. The irony of the freudian slip was lost on FOX News, but not on Stephen Colbert. Honorable mentions were a different FOX personality talking about how “awesome” America is and how this report is just an attempt to say “America is not awesome” and Wolf Blitzer for bravely standing up for the public’s right not to know anything.
Colbert did not miss out on the opportunity to analyse the report with Tom Blanton from George Washington University and torture an expert with the torturous report. Blanton, however, told his host that he was a document fetishist and that the six million pages of CIA evidence cited in the report made him very happy. That evidence, Blanton noted, was the really damning portion of the report. It revealed two amazing facts. First, a pair of psychologists who had researched techniques used by the Chinese on American prisoners of war sold the techniques to the CIA for $81 million. The second unbelievable fact was that these doctors were the overseers of the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA. Obviously, they were not going to say that their methods had failed, despite the fact that it obviously had not been successful at all. These were two facts that have been lost in the mix of gruesome descriptions of sexually taboo torture.
It is increasingly hard to find anything funny in the news these days, but Colbert is doing the best with what he has. The torture report is not necessarily the best fodder for comedy which is perhaps why he covered more of the media’s responses to it rather than the report itself. Colbert’s comedic analysis of the torture report was really more of the torturously stupid things that other people had been saying about it. Perhaps that is the only way to make such a terrible thing funny at all.
Review By Lydia Bradbury