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October 18, 2007

Dealing with Colbert '08

Like President Bush at last year's White House Correspondents Dinner, the press seems unsure of what to make of Stephen Colbert (or whether he's speaking truth to power). Last night on his show, Colbert announced he would seek the office of the Presidency (of South Carolina). Though Colbert's persona is a fictional construct, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reports that Colbert will actually file the papers to run in each party's South Carolina primary. Still, there is some understandable confusion in determining just how to cover the announcement of a candidate whose fictional alter ego is running for president under his real name. Here's how some media outlets tried:

Creme de Colbert

The Associated Press stuck to the facts of the story. It reports, "Stephen Colbert has announced his candidacy for president on 'The Colbert Report,' tossing his satirical hat into the ring of an already crowded race."

USA Today qualifies its coverage, writing, "Colbert Says He's Running For President," and the New York Post takes it a step further with, "The host of Comedy Central's 'Colbert Report' says he wants to run for president." ABC News puts the candidate's name in quotation marks: " 'Stephen Colbert' Tuesday night declared his candidacy for president of the United States." And the New York Times calls it a "stunt."

And you can almost imagine Christina Bellantoni of the Washington Times making air quotes with her fingers as she writes "[Colbert] is 'joining' the presidential field."

And then of course, there's the publication that tries to out-Colbert Colbert. In this case, it's the Online Gambling News which uses this sarcasm-laden subtitle: "Famous philosopher Stephen Colbert announced his presidential candidacy on the prestigious political show 'The Colbert Report'."

But no one obfuscates like Colbert himself. In the run up to his announcement, he appeared on The Daily Show and declared, "I, Stephen Colbert, am officially announcing that I will officially consider whether or not I will announce that I am running for president of the United States." With that question now answered, several others have been raised: Is the candidacy a plug for his new book, or is it the other way around? Will his name even appear on the ballot? And just how much more coverage is he likely to generate than the other second-tier candidates?

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