Mr. Colbert goes to Washington and ignites a firestorm

Maybe you remember that Time magazine poll after Walter Cronkite died a few years ago that found that Jon Stewart — host of comedic news program “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central — had inherited the mantle of “most trusted newscaster.” He took 44 percent of votes cast in a match-up with Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams. 

Other studies found that “The Daily Show” had become a main news source for a segment of young people. 

So people sat up and noticed when Stephen Colbert, who runs a popular spin-off of “The Daily Show” called “The Colbert Report” appeared before a congressional committee at the end of September on the question of migrant workers. 

What scandalized was that he gave his testimony in character as a faux right-winger. 

While committee members alternated between squirming and snickering, Colbert issued zingers like these: 

“This is America. I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, then served by a Venezuelan, in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.” 

And: “I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to CSPAN-1.” 

And: “Maybe the easier answer is just to have scientists develop vegetables that pick themselves. The genetic engineers over at Fruit of the Loom have made great strides in human-fruit hybrids.” 

Did Congress debase itself for higher media ratings? Does having a comedian give testimony mock the very issue to which he’s calling attention? 

Legitimate questions. (As is the question of whether Congress has any shred of dignity and honor left to humiliate.) 

But I’d like to focus instead on a brief moment during the testimony during which Colbert let his public persona drop and the private Colbert (a Catholic who has taught second-grade CCD) came through. In sharp contrast to the self-assured, brash comedian, the private Colbert struggled, ineloquently at first, with emotion. 

He said: “I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still ask them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um … You know, ‘whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers,’ and these seemed like the least of my brothers, right now. A lot of people are ‘least brothers’ right now, because the economy is so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that. But migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.” 

Colbert’s concern for the “least of these” is dead-on. How about all the rest? Let me know your thoughts at feedback@osv.com.