On The Colbert Report Wednesday night, I got to match wits with Stephen Colbert — or, at least, with the character he plays.
He made that point in the dressing room before we went onto the set: That's not him on the show; it's a buffoonish character. So don't hold anything he says against the real Stephen.
The segment focused on PolitiFact's trial partnership with ABC's This Week. I appeared on the Report (the "t" is silent, as in Colbert) with Jake Tapper, interim host of This Week.
Colbert the character isn't particularly keen on fact-checking. But it was a fun segment that highlighted PolitiFact's work and gave me instant status with my teenage kids. In case you weren't awake for the 11:30 show, here are some highlights:
• Colbert said, "It's no secret. I'm a huge fan of the Sunday morning talk shows. They're like a grown-up version of Saturday-morning cartoons — only the cartoons have more productive debates." (He then showed a Looney Tunes clip of an argument between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck: "Duck season! … Wabbit season! … Duck season!")
• Colbert praised David Gregory, who has said he's against a similar fact-checking effort for Meet the Press. Colbert noted: "It is not a Sunday host's job to make sure his guests aren't lying any more than it's a party host's job to make sure the food isn't poisoned."
• Colbert said he was shocked that Tapper wanted to partner with PolitiFact to check This Week. "That's like enjoying a delicious hot dog and then fact-checking to find out how much of it is horse lung and beef (bleep)."
•?When Tapper noted that fact-checking can be too complicated for a host to do on the spur of the moment, Colbert said, "I don't care about facts. I gut-check my show. I say, 'Gut, does that feel true to you?' And Gut says, 'Yes it does, Stephen! Let's get a grilled-cheese sandwich!'?"
•?After Tapper said that the role of the Sunday shows is to "elucidate, to provide information for the viewers so they can determine what's going on in Washington," Colbert said, "Okay, that's the first fact you've gotten wrong because it's about drama, okay? It's a battle. It's two gladiators in one ring. One can choose the sword of truth. But the other one can choose the AK-47 of bulls----."
•?"Who are these PolitiFact guys?" Colbert asked Tapper, and then he turned to ask the same thing of me. I said, "Ultimately, we need to be the referee. American politics needs a referee." When I explained that we were part of the St. Petersburg Times, Colbert said, "So you're a Russian paper." I replied, "But we write in English."
•?This "highlight" wasn't actually on the show: Colbert's producers asked us to fact-check statements from his Monday episode, but we didn't have time to discuss them. Our reporters checked three that appear on PolitiFact.com, including one from legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who claimed that a filibuster has not been successfully used against a Supreme Court nominee. We rated that False.
Bill Adair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 463-0575.