Will nobody stand up for Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza's asinine horseplay on the July 31 episode of their Washingtonpost.com video feature "Mouthpiece Theater"?
Certainly not the Washington Post. The paper panicked and removed the comedy segment from its site after protests from those who took issue with the duo's suggestion that the proper beverage to serve Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House beer summit would have been a bottle of Mad Bitch beer. Proving that you can't unring a bell, copies of the episode can be found all over the Web.
Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti disowned the video in this statement to the press: "The video was a satirical piece that lampooned people of all stripes. There was a section of the video that went too far, so we have removed the piece from our website." When the Columbia Journalism Review approached Post Managing Editor Raju Narisetti—nominal supervisor of the playground that is "Mouthpiece Theater"—to discuss the furor, he stiffed them. (Disclosure: Coratti also works with Slate, which is owned by the Post Co. I've had lunch with Milbank a couple of times and have met Cillizza once or twice.)
Has it really come to the point that you can't call the secretary of state of the most powerful nation on earth a mad bitch in a comedy segment without people becoming unhinged and managing editors running for the exits?
If you're late to the dispute, Milbank and Cillizza are political journalists at the Post who, since early June, have been donning silly costumes and hoisting stupid props on a cheesy set that's supposed to echo the old Masterpiece Theater set. They make fun of themselves. They make fun of powerful politicians. The segments are short and topical.
Are they funny? I'm not really a fan of Milbank and Cillizza's brand of humor. But to put a finer point on it, I'm actually not a fan of any kind of humor. The very essence of humor is aggression. The point of most jokes is to inflict psychological suffering and pain—to transgress and make someone the butt. This is why I've declared my journalism, my office, my home, and the subway line I commute to work on absolutely comedy free.
Although I avoid making jokes—lest I hurt someone's feelings—I support the right of others to cross the line from gentle teasing to gore-splattering comedic mayhem. As Michael Kinsley has repeatedly noted, if you don't risk going too far, you probably won't go far enough. Nowhere is this maxim truer than in comedy. If you're not offending somebody, you're probably not pleasing anybody. Political satire that errs on the side of civility and good taste is empty. If you want that sort of crap, book Mark Russell.
When the Post gave Milbank a video berth on its Web site, it knew exactly what it was in for. Doesn't anybody over there recall that he's the guy who went on Countdown With Keith Olbermannwearing an orange ski cap, a hunting vest, and gloves right after Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a friend in the face with a shotgun and made light of the incident? Milbank said:
The vice president's always been a big believer in executive privilege, so this is just taking it to its logical extreme.