Washington City Paper Memo on Stewart Rally Spoofs ‘Bias’-Fearing Journalists

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Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart visits the Architectural Digest Green Room at the 59th Primetime EMMY Awards

Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic

Hopefully that headline was objective enough.

When we’re on the metajournalism beat (a relaxing change of pace from our usual Justin Bieber and Kanye West stories) NewsFeed tends to follow the opinions of TIME’s media critic James Poniewozik, who often writes about the absurdity of journalists pretending they don’t have opinions in order to appear objective and unbiased:

Intelligent people have perspectives and opinions on the subjects that make up their lives’ work. And intelligent readers and viewers know that. Yet mainstream journalism still depends on perpetuating the fiction that they don’t. It is, as I’ve said, the only area in which journalists argue that hiding information from our audience benefits our audience.

Good points, and ones we agree with! The issue is coming to a head once again this weekend with the Stewart/Colbert Rally To Restore Sanity on the national mall. Is the event a comedy show, which is totally fine for anyone to attend? Or is it a political rally, which in the interests of “objectivity” no journalists should be present lest they demonstrate the dreaded liberal bias? News organizations like the Washington Post and NPR have argued the latter, telling their employees to avoid “participating” in the rally, sometimes even going so far as to forbid reporters from attending unless they are covering the event.

Fortunately, someone else finds this back-bending objectivity as humorous as NewsFeed does. In a hilarious open memo to the paper’s staff, Washington City Paper Editor Michael Schaeffer gives some ludicrously specific guidelines on how employees should cover the event:

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.


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.

The whole thing is a treat, a real symphony of marble-mouthed jargon. Hats off to you, Schaeffer.