The Stewart/Colbert Rallies and the Media’s Liberal Rules of Engagement

Washington City Paper Staff Memo on Stewart/Colbert Rallies

By Michael Schaffer |WashingtonCityPaper





Several of you have asked me about this coming weekend’s satirical National Mall rallies featuring Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. As you probably know, at least one other news organization, NPR, has forbidden news staffers from attending. Others, including the Washington Post, have reminded staffers that newsroom policy permits them to witness events, but not to “participate” in ways that could call into question their impartiality—i.e., by chanting, waving signs, etc.

At a time of grave concerns about our economy and our national security—not to mention a period of tumult in our industry—it is obviously crucial that all media organizations develop appropriate guidelines for staff attendance at mock-political public appearances by cable-television celebrities. After significant consultation with Washington City Paper’s expensive outside team of professional ethicists, we’ve settled on the following guidelines. Please read and follow them closely:

You may attend the rallies in a non-participatory fashion.

However, because the rallies are comic events, you may not laugh.

The act of not laughing, though, can be just as politically loaded as the act of laughing. Therefore, staffers are advised to politely chuckle, in a non-genuine manner, after each joke.

To avoid any perception of bias, please make sure to chuckle at all jokes, whether or not you find them funny. As journalists, we must make sure to not allow our personal views of “humorous” or “non-humorous” to affect our public demeanor.

Likewise, it could be devastating to our impartial reputation if our staffers were seen laughing at something that was not intended as a joke, thereby appearing to mock the entire event. If we are lucky, the comedians will have a drummer on hand whose rim-shots may be used as a cue for when to politely chuckle.

If no non-verbal cues for laughter are available, please observe audience members around you. If they are laughing, imitate their laughter with a non-genuine polite chuckle. If they are not laughing, remain stone-faced. Whatever you do, do not apply your own personal cognitive skills to determining the humorousness of any particular clip. Such an approach exposes us to charges of bias.

More Rules Here