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Published: Sunday, 5/7/2006

A satirist who satirizes? Egad!

President Bush has a reputation as a "regular guy," but everyone knows he's no fan of dissent, especially when uttered by critics as acerbic as Stephen Colbert.

Departing from the clubby tone of the White House Correspondents' Association dinners past, Comedy Central's faux conservative pundit didn't tone down his material last weekend to accommodate a president who's usually sleeping when his program airs.

One can understand Mr. Bush's irritation with Mr. Colbert's self-styled brand of "truthiness" - he's not used to it. But why did organizers of the annual event invite a satirist known for his daily skewering of the Bush presidency to headline what has always been a chummy gathering of Washington's political and media elites?

When The Colbert Report spun off from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last year, it established itself as one-half of the smartest hour of political satire on cable TV. On his talk show, Mr. Colbert plays a Bill O'Reilly-style pundit who ostensibly supports the President. While praising Mr. Bush, Mr. Colbert undermines him with well-modulated irony.

"I stand by [President Bush] because he stands for things," Mr. Colbert told the dinner crowd. "Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

Washington insiders accused Mr. Colbert of violating an unspoken rule that the press go easy on the President one night a year. Coverage of Mr. Bush's self-deprecating skit with a look-a-like entered the 24-hour news cycle with little or no mention of Mr. Colbert's scathing monologue.

This isn't surprising. Mr. Colbert indicted the D.C. media establishment for mindless complacency as well. To mention Mr. Colbert's criticism of the President would also have meant examining his charge of media bungling, too.

Mr. Colbert received a chilly reception in the hall. Hacks and politicians were scandalized by his honesty and "bad manners."

What did they expect Mr. Colbert to do? It was like hiring George Carlin for his street cred, but hoping he'd turn out to be more like Yacov Smirnoff. Instead Stephen Colbert did his shtick while media royalty and Mr. Bush did theirs.

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