Are the Colbert/Stewart rallies real?

The answer to the above question is… yes and no. Yes, they are real in the sense that there will be a gathering of people in Washington, D.C. on October 30th, assuming that the permit for the event is approved. As MsInterpreted blogged yesterday, an application was submitted to the National Parks Department on September 8th, for “a single permit for a ‘special event’ on the north half of the Washington Monument grounds for Oct. 30.” Although the application hasn’t been approved yet, there don’t appear to be any substantial issues that would prevent the issuing of a permit, and approval is expected by September 30th.

But is this rally a genuine political event, designed to express support for a particular party or viewpoint? No. That’s not the goal as expressed by Jon and Stephen in their competing announcements, so in that sense the rally isn’t “real.” Yet the media spin is already starting, as news organizations have to put their own interpretation on something that shouldn’t need interpreting. Politico is starting out with five questions that demonstrate how not to get the point.

Five Questions for the Jon Stewart Rally
By Patrick Gavin Posted: 9/17/10 8:29 AM EDT Updated: 9/17/10 8:31 AM EDT

. . .

It’ll be a fun day, for sure, even if you don’t like Stewart’s politics: Washington rallies tend to be more serious than silly. But Stewart has a serious message here: Just days before the midterms, Stewart aims to prove that America’s collective moderates can drown out the extremes who can dominate political discourse (and his own show’s skewering…) from time to time.

Stewart is a media darling and his event is sure to be heavily scrutinized, so we might as well get the ball rolling with five questions we’ll be looking to answer come Oct. 30.

. . .

3.) How to handle the “Colbert Factor”?

Stewart skillfully walks the fine line between comedy and contemplation and the audience allows him to straddle both. Colbert, however, plays a conservative on his program, even though his audience knows he’s joking. Still, soundbytes are soundbytes. Where a solo Stewart rally would pit him and his message against the nation’s extremities – the goal of this effort, it appears – a Stewart/Colbert dichotomy would, in part, move the focus away from the issues and on to their addictive and humorous dueling rapport. It could become less of a Jon Stewart rally, than simply another Stewart/Colbert comedy show.

It’s supposed to be a Stewart/Colbert comedy show. That, more than anything else, is the point of the rally. And what does “move the focus away from the issues” mean? What issues? Whatever issues are discussed will, I’m sure, be addressed in a way that is funny and entertaining rather than serious. The article also asks “Will Democrats really benefit from this?” I believe the correct answer is “Maybe a little. I don’t know. Who cares?” It’s not a purely Democratic rally, although I’m sure there will be plenty of Democrats there. Maybe some Republicans will show up, and that’s fine, too, they’re welcome to join in the fun. It’s an opportunity for fans of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to get together, enjoy some quality time with their heroes, have a few laughs, and oh yeah, maybe remind everyone that all the shouting and name-calling is not the best way to have a political discussion.

At the other end of the spectrum — the “it-getter” end, if you will — Vanity Fair explains why the inevitable comparisons to Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally are irrelevant.

Why Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally Won’t — and Isn’t Trying to — Outdo Glenn Beck
By Juli Weiner Posted: September 17, 2010, 8:45 AM

. . .

Another question, though, is whether the pow-wow will garner the same turn-out and press coverage as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin’s Restoring Honor, a summertime Tea Party variety show, which drew crowd of anywhere from 100,00 to a million, depending on who‘s lying to you.

This is, at least, the comparison most news outlets seem to most readily deploy. But Stewart, whose opinions are, at least more so than Colbert’s irony-cloaked commentary, a more explicit vocalization of the two hosts’ political views, wrote that the rally is courting “people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority.” He continued, “If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence … we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.”

. . .

If he [Stewart] wanted his rally to draw the same crowds and drum up the same media frenzy as that of the Beck event, he would have actively campaigned to achieve these effects. Perhaps the Rally to Restore Sanity and the March to Keep Fear Alive are not so much rivals of the Beck rally but more of a coda — an asterisk after the Restoring Honor name that’s not arguing for another political persuasion but simply questioning the value of assembling on the National Mall and creating one’s opinions in the image of a television host.

The Politico article also wonders about the attendance at the Restoring Honor rally versus the Stewart/Colbert rally, and seems to think that if Jon and Stephen can outdo Glenn Beck in sheer numbers, it will prove a point. I think it will prove that Jon and Stephen have loyal fans who are willing to travel to the nation’s capital for a chance to see their heroes in person. It’s not a contest. It doesn’t matter who draws the biggest crowd. The terrorists don’t win if Jon and Stephen pull a smaller crowd than Beck. On the other hand, from a practical standpoint, the permit application for October 30th is estimating a crowd of about 25,000, and I don’t know if that’s reasonable. Nearly three times that number have said they’re attending on the Rally to Restore Sanity event page on Facebook, and 28,000 have said they’re attending on the March to Keep Fear Alive page. Even allowing for a fair amount of overlap in those numbers, that’s a lot of people. On the other other hand (yes, I know I’m up to three hands now), many of those people will later decide they can’t go, for various reasons. So I think it’s anybody’s guess how large the crowd will be.

Regardless of how many people show up, I hope everyone will remember not to take it all too seriously. It’s not intended to be an opportunity to get back at anyone; it’s just a chance for fans of Jon and Stephen — and fans of civil and reasonable political discourse — to get together, make up some creatively witty signs, and have a few laughs.


  1. Well (and sanely) said, Ann.
    “I think it will prove that Jon and Stephen have loyal fans who are willing to travel to the nation’s capital for a chance to see their heroes in person.” I think that sentence sums it up neatly.

    IF I am able to attend, I want to go solely because it will be delightfully FUN!

    Love the spell-check feature, btw. I spell beautifully, but my typing skills are hideous.

  2. It’s incredible to me that the folks at Politico just aren’t it-getters. Our guys are first and foremost comedians, not politicians or pundits. They just play them on teevee.

  3. Hey, Politico, isn’t their “addictive and humorous dueling rapport” kind of the whole point?? That and ‘maybe a little less shouting, please’.

    Thanks for the sanity, Ann.

  4. Ms Interpreted says:

    100% agree with this, Ann. They’ve said themselves that as soon as they start taking the shows too seriously, they’ll fail. And I think it’s their commitment to humor first that has allowed them to keep getting such consistently funny material to us over the years.

    I’m not surprised that the media narrative is turning annoying so quickly, but I’ll be thrilled if more of them start waking up and following Vanity Fair‘s lead.

  5. pkyoubuggin says:

    Well, since the media is analyzing this already, let me just say this: it will be a combination of a fan gathering and a significant statement about the state of political discourse right now. You cannot say that Stewart/Colbert have no effect on national dialogue; people wouldn’t flock to their computers and televisions everyday to watch their shows if they did not.
    Anyone who has been in Washington knows one thing: the loudest team will try to win control of the public discourse, and frequently wins, if they are loud and persistent enough. The most radical, extreme wings of either ideology are out pushing their agendas, along side other political committees, lobbys and special interest groups. Rarely are people who are simply perplexed by the daily affairs of the country represented; rarely do these same people feel that anyone can articulate their feelings as well as these guys do.
    Not to make too much of this, because as was already stated, this is a comedy show, but I do think the images of this rally right before midterms will send a powerful message. It is similar to what Jon said at the Paley center years ago, that the politicians and political groups active in Washington are on the handles of the bell curve, and the rest of us are in the middle, “raising children.” But you know, still caring about the country and stuff.

  6. Wonderful post, Ann! I think it is very telling that the media is already attempting to align the rally in a specific camp. It is, sad to say, astonishing to watch it happen with regards to comedy shows. Must everything be neatly labeled and placed on one side or the other?! Geez!

    I think Lawrence O’Donnell (the guest from Thursday night’s show) had some very sane things to say about it on Chris Matthews’ show last night (sorry, I don’t have the link just yet) that presented the rally as it should be: a comedic gathering with no specific political agenda.

    I do think the rally could make one point clear: there are many people who aren’t represented by the extremes on the left or right and those people like to laugh!

  7. Nicely done, Ann! Well said. As Stephen has said before, his job is to make you laugh. So, throw all of the political crap out the window, and you still have two rallies designed for just that reason. As much as TDS and TCR do influence culture and the news cycle, at the heart of it all, they’re still fake-news shows. It’s amazing to me (though I guess not really surprising) that the media forgets that. If they don’t get the point (or non-point, as it were) of the rallies, then they really don’t deserve to.

    If by some small chance of fate, and if I could somehow grow a money tree to afford a trip to D.C., I would be going simply because of how unbelievably awesome and fun it would be. :)

  8. There shouldn’t be any worry about the National Park Service approving the permit for the rally. I read in the Wash Post that the permit for Beck’s rally was issued less than 2 weeks the actual date. Its just government beauracracy at work – the Smithsonian has held the Folklife Festival every summer on the Mall for something like 30 years, and every year they have to get a permit. Its ridiculous.

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