City Desk

Washington City Paper Staff Memo on Stewart/Colbert Rallies

City Paper Staff Memo on Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rallies





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:

  1. You may attend the rallies in a non-participatory fashion.
  2. However, because the rallies are comic events, you may not laugh.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. On the other hand, a situation could arise where partisan foes of the Comedy Central hosts laugh at them in a derisive manner unrelated to the timing of their on-stage jokes. In this case, your failure to join in the mockery could potentially be interpreted as a sign that you disagree with the derision—an equally distasteful indication of bias. Please follow the above guidelines and also chuckle politely, but not genuinely, at any instances of counter-comedy.
  8. In our experience, public appearances by comedy figures also draw audiences whose members frequently make jokes amongst themselves. These attempts at humor might not necessarily fit into the rational example of protesters versus counter-protesters outlined in the guidelines above. However, you could nonetheless indicate a great deal about your personal biases via your decision as to whether or not you laugh along when the person next to you riffs about, say, marginal tax rates. Please make sure to follow the above guidelines and respond via polite, non-genuine, mild guffaws to the jibes of amateur comics in the audience.
  9. We’re also aware that the large crowds expected at the rallies could produce a cacophonous din, one in which you are unable to discern which jokes are being made by audience members, counter-protestors, or the day’s main attractions—and, worse still, where observers may think you are laughing at an anti-Republican joke when you are actually laughing at an anti-Democrat joke. To protect our cherished reputation against such a danger, I have arranged for each of you to be issued a pair of earplugs. Should the event grow too raucous, please insert these earplugs immediately. Once you have inserted the earplugs, please chuckle politely, and non-genuinely, every 74 seconds, to maintain the appearance of non-biased and appropriate responses to the event.
  10. You are free to laugh heartily and genuinely at any jokes that target the terrorists.

Please feel free to see me or Mike Madden should you need any further clarification.



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  • Joel

    Haha how Harrison Bergeron of you.
    I miss working for this paper

  • Keli

    Would it be appropriate to dress in Halloween attire? Or conversely in Pro-American garb?

  • Matt Bevilacqua

    I guess it'd be more appropriate to quote any laughter you hear, and give proper attribution.

    "Ha ha ha," said one protester, 22-year-old Ali Oop from Boise, Idaho. "He he he."

  • janetlee

    Lovely satire. Please check out the face book page for the Rally to Restore Sanity. While Stewart and Colbert are comedians, the rally has morphed into something beyond that of a comedy show satirizing the media and/or politics.

    The idea of restoring civil discourse to our most pressing problems is resonating with a large number of people who are neither tea partiers nor far left liberals.

    And while the rally itself may not be a huge political statement, those attending are voicing their concerns and are fired up to vote and are taking the message to all they know.

  • cyberplayground

    You know when hear laughing someone is actually telling the truth.

    Mark Twain
    Territorial Governors -- are nothing but politicians who go out to the outskirts of countries and suffer the privations there in order to build up stakes and come back as United States Senators.
    - Mark Twain's Autobiography

    No matter how healthy a man's morals may be when he enters the White House, he comes out again with a pot-marked soul.
    - quoted in My Father Mark Twain, Clara Clemens

    History has tried hard to teach us that we can't have good government under politicians. Now, to go and stick one at the very head of the government couldn't be wise.
    - New York Herald, 26 August 1876

  • R.S.S.

    Not bad. But you could have held it longer than to give it away by the second or third step. I know it must have been really hard to resist even in the first step but I guess timing in comedy is not for amateurs. If you had kept it up until about the middle or even later, people like me would not skip bothering to read all the way to the end, you see. The effort you give in the top half would have sustained even the pathologically cynical, also known as a Brit, to persevere to the very end.

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  • Albatross

    Dear Mr. Schaffer,

    I would like to object in the strongest manner possible to the content of your post, to wit, 'City Paper Staff Memo on Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rallies.' The aforementioned rallies are not "mock" rallies, insofar as they mirror almost exactly the structure and format of the Glen Beck "rally" upon which they were based, and it was, as advertised for weeks in advance, an entirely spontaneous uprising of oppressed middle class white people. As to your advice that your staff only engage in the most insincere laughter, I suggest that it would be simpler if they adopt the kind of arrogant ignorance-covering smirk that has served legions of befuddled, humorless right-wing commentators on Fox News.


    Brigadier General Archibald Wellington-Smythe (Mrs.)

    P.S. you left your knickers over last night, they will be in the post.

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  • Tony Stiglitz

    I'm available to be the "drummer on hand" to provide rim-shots to cue the polite chuckle!

  • Cronin

    Dearest City Paper,
    I fucking love you.

  • Anke

    Hilarious. I will read your paper "religiously" from now on!

  • DJ6ual
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