Note To Conservatives: If You Keep Making Ridiculous Complaints, Don’t Complain When People Can’t Tell When You’re Joking

Hey! Get that foot off of your own desk! Who do you think you are, President of the...oh. Right."

Hey! Get that foot off of your own desk! Who do you think you are, President of the…oh. Right.”

RECONSIDERED:  I have been persuaded by the comment thread that followed this post that my initial position regarding Andy Levy’s objections to Stephen Colbert’s use of his critique from “Red-Eye” was mistaken: Colbert was indeed unfair to Levy, and it was unfair as well for me to hold Levy accountable for some of his conservative colleagues’ serious versions of the argument he properly labelled as absurd. Read the comments of James Flood and Ampersand below for the rebuttal that carried the day. As always, I am grateful for the passionate and well-argued perception of Ethics Alarms readers.

If you need more proof of how toxic and infantile the partisan wars are these days, you need search no farther than the manufactured controversy over President Obama’s disrespectful treatment of his own desk. When I first started seeing posts on major websites complaining about the photo of the President putting his foot on his desk in the Oval Office, I decided the controversy was too idiotic to waste time with. But, as is their tendency and their talent, conservatives escalated this one with exquisite gall, and now I have to take note.

This month, and not for the first time, conservatives had the vapors over President Obama being overly casual in his own office and “disrespecting” a desk that was sent to President Garfield by Queen Victoria. (It sure didn’t do him any good) There is only one description of this preposterous complaint that does it justice, and that would be “utter bullshit.”

Not only is it likely that most occupants of the Oval Office treated their desk as, well, a desk, but if the man holding the most powerful and difficult job in the world feels that it helps him to put his feet, foot, butt, nose, tongue or other body parts on his own desk, he should do it. The fact that conservatives are offended by a photo of this natural and not at all disrespectful act (the President already defers to too many people that he shouldn’t, and now conservatives think that he needs to show more deference to his own furniture?), in addition to being an alarming sign of encroaching mental illness, is also a strong indication that they are in denial over the fact that this man, Barack Obama, is in fact the President, has been elected twice, and has every right to act like a President in every way, including putting his feet, with shoes or not, wherever he damn pleases in the White House.

I don’t want to hear about how he is a merely a trustee, or how he’s just borrowing the office, or that it belongs to the people, or history. True, and irrelevant. He lives there, he works there, the White House is the President’s home, the Oval Office is the President’s office, and while any man holds that office he can wear what he likes, do what he likes, tell bawdy jokes there, read Playboy, watch “Three’s Company,” strip naked and pass wind, as long as it doesn’t interfere with leading the nation. It’s good to be President, and what counts is being a good leader, not whether you but a scratch or two in your desk.

Hey! Get that foot off of your own desk! Who do you think you are, President of the...oh. Right."

Hey! Get that foot off of your own desk! Who do you think you are, President of the…oh. Right.”

It should not have surprised anyone that Stephen Colbert, the often brilliant satirist of Comedy Central, took aim at this barn-sized target, and mocked it thoroughly. Since his show is on TV and photos of an indignant tweet from Lou Dobbs would lack some kinetic interest, he chose to show a segment from the Fox late-night Fox panel show “Red Eye,” like that network’s “The Five” a weird hybrid that merges rightward, reliably anti-Obama political commentary with jokes.  Colbert played a clip from the show featuring an anti-foot-on-desk rant from “Red-Eye” regular Andy Levy, who is a pundit and a humorist, and like John Stewart, likes to claim that he is one whenever he is criticized for his conduct while being the other:

This, absurdly, drew an angry “Can’t you take a joke?” response from Levy, reported in a story by the Daily Caller about how gullible Stephen Colbert had been “duped” by an obvious spoof. Here’s Levy’s indignant retort:

This is too much. It piles hypocrisy and a fake ‘gotcha!’ on stupidity, and that’s a sandwich nobody should have to eat. The joke excuse, which is usually an attempt to avoid responsibility,  only has credibility when it is obvious to any sentient observer that a joke is intended, and that the jokester knows it’s a joke. Since various Fox pundits and alumni, like Glenn Beck, had recently and seriously expressed umbrage at Obama’s office demeanor, Levy (and the Daily Caller) have some nerve pretending that Colbert is a fool for treating Levy’s critical rant on the same topic, on the same network, from the same end of the political spectrum, as something more than a wild comic riff.

If Levy and “Red-Eye” had any integrity, they would have specifically mocked their conservative brethren for making an issue out of Presidential feet. Levy cannot claim that his criticism was only tongue in cheek when the same criticism was simultaneously coming from his friends, allies and fellow conservatives in all seriousness.

In other words, if you hang around with people who say stupid things and mean it, you can’t blame others for thinking that when you say essentially the same stupid things, you mean it too.


Sources:The Blaze, Daily Caller, Media mattersMediaite, Huffington Post, Washington Times

22 thoughts on “Note To Conservatives: If You Keep Making Ridiculous Complaints, Don’t Complain When People Can’t Tell When You’re Joking

  1. This seems to dovetail to your previous post below. A good reason not to make ethical accusations about the use of certain photographs is that you never know what people will see in an image.

      • But I refuse to accept ginormous.

        I hadn’t even heard of this whole foot picture scandal until this post. Seems pretty cheap, especially consideration the cornucopia of substantive problems that is Obama administration.

        • Sorry. “Fail to respect” or “show disrespect for” work absolutely fine for me. Using “disprespect” as a verb is done by illiterate gangbangers and thugs when attempting to justify their unsocial behavior, as in “I had to shoot the motherfucker. He disprespected my ass.” To allow it into the lexicon of civilized discussion is a disservice to language and civilization.

          And of course, I am accepting nominations to the Academy Anglaise or Americanaise, as soon as it’s formed. Hah!

  2. I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one Jack. Perhaps I’m biased because I watch Red Eye regularly (via DVR) but there is no way that Colbert and his staff could have reasonably believed Levy and Gutfeld were serious. I think Colbert wrote the joke and lazily used the first instance of outrage he could find, even if it wasn’t authentic.

    All you have to do is watch a clip of the actual broadcast where Gutfeld and other panelists explicitly state that they don’t care in the least and think it’s a silly non-story. Watch here from the 9:50 mark:

    I don’t see how anyone can watch that and not find Colbert’s use of the clip deceitful.

    I also think you are unfairly indicting Levy and Gutfeld through mere guilt by association (they are on Fox, Beck used to be on Fox, others on Fox have seriously objected) and thus they too must be complicit. Andy Levy is more of a Libertarian than conservative and is about as even-handed a voice as you will find on cable news. Levy responded to Colbert because he loathed the idea that he was being lumped in with right-wing nutjobs.

    • I know he was joking. I’m sure Colbert knows he was joking. The Colbert piece was an attack on the accusation, not Levy. But Levy’s tongue in cheek rant accurately reflected serious objections from his own camp, again, as he knows. If both he and Colbert were ridiculing the same thing, and they were, Levy’s indignation is way over the top, and he implies that anyone should have known that his views were facetious. How can he say that when his own routine was prompted by conservatives saying the exact same thing and meaning it? I don’t think he is complicit—I think he needs to be clearer who the miscreants are here. Colbert isn’t the one who needed to be slapped down by name. How about Lou Dobbs?

  3. After watching the clip (thanks, James), I have to agree with James.

    The main thrust of Colbert’s piece (and of your blog post) was correct – conservatives who overreact to that photo are acting in a ridiculous manner.

    But to take a clip of people who obviously AREN’T offended, any more than Colbert himself was, and use them as examples of people who are genuinely offended is deceptive. (Just as for someone to take a clip of Colbert faking being angry, and present it as if Colbert had been genuinely angry, would be deceptive).

    And I was deceived – when I first saw the Colbert clip, I assumed the people in it were genuinely claiming to be offended by Obama’s behavior, albeit in a cheerful, good-humored fashion.

    Moreover, I don’t think there’s any chance the Colbert producer who put that together made an honest error. We can reasonably expect that someone who works for a news-comedy show for a living is a sophisticated enough viewer of comedy to know the difference between sarcasm and sincerity.

    Quote-mining this show in this way – and changing the meaning of their discussion by taking quotes out of context – is unfair, and deceptive. They should have gone with Lou Dobbs, or if no good video clips could be found, with reading quotes aloud (something Colbert has done before).

    * * *

    I’ve never seen that show before. Why did someone decide that filling the bottom of the screen with red scratch marks was a great design idea? And why is it constantly blinking off when they go to a long shot and blinking back on when they go to closeup? Cable TV aesthetics are weird.

    • It’s a valid point. I may be giving Colbert too much leeway—I felt the point of his bit was to attack the position, not “Red Eye,” and Levy accurately represented the real complaints. Don’t you think that’s perilous? If someone on MSNBC basically says, but satirically, the same stuff Al Sharpton does, or Ed Schultz at his worst, and those guys are taken seriously, can you credibly then say—“How did you not know I was joking”?

  4. I felt the point of his bit was to attack the position, not “Red Eye,”

    I completely agree – the mischaracterization of “Red Eye” was sort of collateral damage. But I think that misleading editing like that is wrong even if it wasn’t the primary intention of the Colbert Show’s bit.

    If someone on MSNBC basically says, but satirically, the same stuff Al Sharpton does, or Ed Schultz at his worst, and those guys are taken seriously, can you credibly then say—”How did you not know I was joking”?

    I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all rule; rather, I think we should examine the context, and say “in this instance, could a good-faith error have been made?”

    So in this case, the context makes it clear they are joking. For example, the host says “I really don’t care that he put his foot on the desk.” One of the panelists says “As usual, the Republicans make the humor go from Obama to them by their reaction.” At one point the panel’s token liberal asks the host “Is anybody really offended by this?,” and the host responds “I think it’s silly.”

    At the point when watching the full segment shows the host and the guests explicitly saying that they don’t care about the foot on the desk, and that they think Republicans who do care are making themselves the joke and being “silly,” it’s not reasonable for a Comedy Central segment producer to claim to have misunderstood what they were doing, or to use out-of-context clips to falsely present them as if they had actually been offended by the photo.

    • Thank you Ampersand; your posts largely saved me the trouble of following up. I share your sentiments and don’t think I could have expressed them so eloquently. The only thing I would add is in regard to Andy Levy’s indignation. The reason he was upset about the deceptive edit and took it personally was that The Colbert Report effectively made him the face of the very loons he was satirizing. That in and of itself is unethical. And the satire was obvious; that is, unless you select a few isolated clips to fuel your joke. I don’t think it was necessarily done out of malice – although I’m certain they knew his words were in jest – laziness is the more likely culprit. They needed an outlandish quote from Fox News and that was the best they could find, truth be damned.

      And as a longtime viewer of the show, I have no idea why they persist with the ridiculous red scribbles at the bottom of the screen.

      • As I just wrote Barry on this—“Yup,I’m convinced… Well put. I just added a prologue to the post adopting your viewpoint. Thanks.” And the same to you. You guys had it right. I’m still uncomfortable with the half-joke half-commentary formats, as they are too forgiving and allow easy retreats, but Colbert cheated on this one, and picked the wrong target. Thanks.

        • Thanks Jack! Your blog resides in that seldom visited area of the internet where people engage in reasoned debate and sometimes even change their minds.

  5. Jack, glad to see you change your mind! I read the comment section earlier today and came away agreeing with them (Ampersand et al.) as well. I appreciate your ability to be swayed by a well-reasoned argument; that’s part of the reason I read your blog.

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