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UNESCO's Comedy Central Caper

Compliments are due to Oliver's skill in staging skits, which he performed so neatly that some might be mistaken for actual reporting. For instance, he included an interview with someone who appeared to be an idiot U.S. congressman, a straight man who kept trying to defend U.S. policy, and made a complete botch of it. That was staged. The interviewee, Robert Wexler, is not in Congress. He used to be, but he resigned in 2010. Yet Oliver went to Wexler for a "defense" of U.S. policy; not to any of the law-makers who might genuinely wish to defend the law in question. We might reasonably assume that when Wexler offered himself as a "congressional" target for Oliver's ridicule, he was in on the joke.

Genuinely well-informed satire can be of great value. Ignorant buffoonery, however, is harder to defend. I don't doubt that the Comedy Central Team meant well. But U.S. policy here is not frivolous, and it is no small matter when UNESCO, to fill its own coffers, presumes to lobby for the U.S. to change its laws -- especially a law that is highly relevant today, precisely due to UNESCO's own decisions. That is what's going on. When UNESCO last fall became the first UN outfit to confer full membership on the Palestinian Authority, that decision triggered a U.S. law that forbids funding to any part of the UN that admits the Palestinians before they have honored their promises to negotiate peace with Israel. For UNESCO, where the U.S. had been bankrolling 22% of the regular budget, this meant the withdrawal of more than $78 million per year in U.S. funding. That's America's prerogative. It had the salutary effect of sending a message to other UN affiliates, thus putting the brakes on the PA's big push last year to subvert the workings of the UN itself, where recognition of statehood is supposed to come by way of recommendation from the UN Security Council -- not via an end-run at UN-related organizations.

Since then, UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova has been lobbying not for UNESCO to change its decision, but for the U.S. to scrap its law. Bokova, a Bulgarian functionary schooled in Moscow during the Cold War, has launched a propaganda blitz in the U.S., disparaging the relevant U.S. law as "outdated" and traveling to Washington to meet with U.S. law-makers. Last month, with four UNESCO staffers in her entourage, Bokova spent 12 days in the U.S., with stops in Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Bokova was very busy touting UNESCO, but the biggest boost came from The Daily Show -- their "epic" linked here.  And in my article for The Weekly Standard, UNESCO Funny Business, some of the items that Bokova, and the comedians, left out.