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My Ordeal with Jon Stewart and His ‘Cone of Silence’ Event

Want a press pass? Dear Leader cannot be reached at this time.

by
Richard Pollock

Bio

October 29, 2010 - 3:15 pm

Interacting with Comedy Central over the upcoming Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity, or the March to Keep Fear Alive, or the This Is Not a Political Rally rally is much like trying to communicate with North Korea’s Kim Jong II.

I have been conducting a long-distance email relationship with Steve Albani, Comedy Central’s vice president for corporate communications. I am trying to get press credentials to cover the event for PJTV. Here are my unedited email conversations with Mr. Albani:

Me: Hope all is going well with your planning for the D.C. rallies. Could you please give us any updated information concerning pre-rally press conferences and avails for next week? Will there be press avails prior to or after Jon Stewart’s interview with the president?

Albani: Jon will not be doing any press prior to the October 30 rallies.

Me: I also understand Jon will be broadcasting his show from D.C. next week. What rules will you have governing outside broadcast camera access, sprays and shooting for Jon’s show here?

Albani: we are not allowing crews inside the studio during the week of tapings in Washington

Me: We will be bringing correspondent Alfonzo Rachel to cover the rally. Could you please have one of your staff add him to your list of participating press?

Albani: did she apply for a credential on our online application site? If not, a credential is TBD, since the deadline to apply was yesterday.

Just a note that Alfonzo is a he, which Albani might have noted from where I referred to Alfonzo with the masculine “him.”

I emailed Albani today, and received this auto-reply:

If this is about the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Otherwise, you just might have to wait until Monday.

“Thank you — we hope you enjoyed your visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles!”

Actually, I am not feeling sorry for myself, as I realize I am in the same stupefied boat as the rest of the media in this town and elsewhere in this nation — trying to make sense of the Stewart event. The Washington Post’s total insider, Paul Farhi, noted on Monday of this week that Comedy Central was as tight-lipped as Charlie Sheen’s publicist:

With less than a week to go, it’s still not exactly clear how Stewart will be using this new platform. No guests or musical acts have been announced, Stewart has done only a couple media interviews, and he’s offered few details about the rally.

Here, the New York Times Bill Carter and Brian Stelter describe Mr. Stewart’s open, transparent, and freewheeling public event for change and reasonableness:

Mr. Stewart declined interview requests and has offered little description of what is planned. He also has apparently lowered a cone of silence over members of his staff and executives at Comedy Central, which will broadcast the rally live.

Even Judy McGrath, the chief executive at MTV Networks, the parent company of Comedy Central, also has not divulged many details. “Whatever you think it’s going to be, it’s probably not going to be that,” she said last week.

Members of the MSM, who might have once thought they lived in the capital of the Free World, found themselves doubly degraded during Jon Stewart’s interview with President Obama. The entire Washington press corps discovered they were in the very uncool position of being outsiders at Mr. Stewart’s insider extravaganza. This is how the intimate White House pool report began:

The taping began around 5:30 at the Harman Center for the Arts. Pool held outside of auditorium in a hallway with a live feed of the event in progress.

Yes, the pool amounted to watching a TV in a hallway.

This is not what you would expect from a comedy show broadcasting from an upscale Shakespearean theater in the nation’s capital. I’m not sure exactly what the PR commanders-in-chief at Comedy Central were expecting with this blanket undercover operation, but this entire week feels more like a CIA field action in the Swat Valley rather than a PR rollout in the nation’s capital.

The most intriguing question this week: what happened to Stephen Colbert? He has all but disappeared from this event. Where is he?

First, the two show hosts were to wage “dueling” rallies. Then they merged. Then Colbert lost the title of his event (March to Keep Fear Alive). Then Colbert disappeared from D.C. altogether.

In this highly scripted event, this is what we know about this rally-cum-promo. According to the Washington Post’s Gog Blog:

The jumbotrons will flicker to life with music and videos at 10 a.m. but the live entertainment won’t begin until noon, when the Roots — by now, no strangers to playing on the Mall — will perform a 40-minute set.

The rally/march begins in earnest at 1 p.m. with remarks by Stewart and Colbert, the latter of whom will be joined by actors Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci) and Sam Waterston (Law and Order) before musical performances by Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, and Sheryl Crow. That takes us up to 2:40 p.m. or so, when the show goes pre-taped for what is being called “The Sanity and Fear Awards.” Everything ends by 3 p.m.

If that all seems mighty quick to you, rest assured that the itinerary released by the National Park Service has plenty of “to be determined” space built in: there will be “a comedian” to warm up the crowd.”

And for those of you who want to see it, well Comedy Central will own all the rights, which is what Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert do when they embrace capitalism and authoritarian control of the media. According to the New York Times:

The channel will also carry the press conference with Mr. Stewart scheduled after the event; Comedy Central will own the rights to the broadcast but has no plans to replay it.

I don’t quite know what this is. So far, the only legitimate comedy I’ve come across from this experience was when terrorist Bill Ayers told reporters he believes the event is “worth attending.”

Richard Pollock is the Washington, D.C., editor for PJ Media and the Washington bureau chief of PJTV.
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