The Washington City Paper, faced with maintaining the veil of journalistic objectivity (and being
unintentionally hilarious), wanted to make sure its staff knew exactly what was expected of them if they planned to attend this past weekend’s Stuart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear to America. Luckily for us, though, the editor posted the instructions on the paper’s blog. To laugh or not to laugh? It’s not that easy. What it boils down to, though, was a general edict to “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.” I think they succeeded. I doubt anyone charged with following a checklist like this could end up finding humor in anything. Bonus points, guys.
TO: WASHINGTON CITY PAPER STAFF
FROM: MICHAEL SCHAFFER, EDITOR
RE: STEWART/COLBERT RALLY
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.