You would have thought that President Obama had nominated Eric Holder to succeed John Roberts as chief justice, not that Les Moonves had named a successor to David Letterman. When Stephen Colbert was promoted to the Late Show throne last month, Rush Limbaugh called in the dogs: “CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America,” he said, by hiring a partisan who would bring about “a redefinition of what is comedy.” The vitriol on the right became so thick that a couple of less excitable conservative columnists were moved to defend Colbert by observing that he is a churchgoing, Sunday-school-teaching Catholic suburbanite raised as one of 11 children in super-red Charleston, South Carolina. Subtext: Count your blessings that CBS isn’t force-feeding the heartland a neurotic urban Jew with suspect family values.
Those pillorying Colbert didn’t seem to grasp the concept that he would have to retire his parodistic right-wing blowhard comic persona once he moved from Comedy Central’s Colbert Report to a broadcast-network franchise that competes with the Jimmys Fallon and Kimmel. Not that it mattered: The outrage at Colbert was really just the latest flare-up of a larger, long-term complaint. It’s an article of faith on the right that conservative comedians, like conservative entertainment-industry workers in general, are either blacklisted by Hollywood’s liberal mafia or are in daily danger of being so, thus giving the left a near monopoly on comedy as practiced in the vast cultural swing district of American television. Only a few weeks before the Colbert kerfuffle, the Times had lent front-page gravity to the Friends of Abe, an association of Hollywood conservatives too fearful to disclose its members’ names lest they face “possible job discrimination.”