Can the Internet put Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? If some 8,000 online supporters – and counting – have their way, the mock conservative talk show host will be hosting the “Restoring Truthiness” rally on Oct. 10 as a sort of satiric counterweight to the Aug. 28 Glenn Beck "Restoring Honor" event on the same steps.
The call for Mr. Colbert to decamp to the nation’s capital began last week as a midnight rambling posted by user mrsammercer on Reddit.com, which was then picked up by the Huffington Post and turned into a genuine Internet movement, complete with a Facebook page, a website, and ardent viral fans.
It is the latest example of what new media analyst Paul Levinson calls the new paradigm for people and and political involvement. “People don’t want to just listen to the messages from politicians anymore,” says the Fordham University author of "New New Media," adding, “They want to be shaping the message.”
Mr. Colbert has not yet commented on the campaign, which recalls the highly vocal and ultimately successful Internet-driven push to bring actress Betty White to host the Mother’s Day edition of “Saturday Night Live.” While calling for an entertainer to hold a political rally in the real world is potentially more serious than egging a network into showcasing a beloved veteran actress, former NBC newsman Richard Berman notes that the line between serious news and entertainment has been blurring for years.
It makes perfect sense that people would use the same tactics for a political purpose, he says, adding, “as serious news and fringe events are all covered in the same way, with more of an eye for ratings than news importance, then making fun of something has the same validity as anything else.”
And, he says, as mainstream news outlets continue to lose their credibility with audiences, it also makes sense that the credibility of satirists would rise.
The well-documented trend for the under-30 crowd to get their news and information from comedy sources – notably Comedy Central’s one-two team, Jon Stewart (“The Daily Show”) and Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report”) – certainly guarantees online attention for th Colbert campaign, says Seton Hall University political scientist Matthew Hale.
“The social-media crowd takes this very seriously,” he adds.
But he questions whether an Internet conceit could make the leap to the real stage. “This is something that people will certainly get fired up by online,” he says. “They might even enjoy watching it on television.” But, he adds, “I question whether you would actually get crowds traveling from places like Idaho and Alaska to actually attend a real rally.”
Beyond that, he points out, part of what many seem to miss in these comedians is the fact that they are not actually committed politicians.
“Political events work best when the point of view is clear and consistent,” he says. "But if you notice, both Jon Stewart and Colbert mock people across the entire political spectrum. That doesn’t fit the political event narrative as neatly as a real politician.”