Over this past weekend, a scandal erupted for TV show host Stephen Colbert. He performed a bit on The Redskins owner’s new charity that aired on the side of being mildly offensive. A tweet went up from the show’s production run Twitter account without proper background linkage and all hell broke loose. #CancelColbert trended for 36 hours. For the full story, check out this article.
With the controversy happening on Thursday evening and Colbert’s show not due to air again until Monday, there was not much the show or the show’s host could do. Many waited eagerly for his response on his show Monday night. Colbert delivered a beautifully crafted monologue and dedicated the majority of his show to defending the tweet, himself, and everything his production stands for. For me, this response was magnificent. I highly encourage anyone to watch the full episode on Hulu.
What I loved most about Colbert’s response, is that it wasn’t a heart felt apology. Colbert defended himself and the bit. The joke had been posted, with a link to the clip, on the show’s Facebook numerous times with no backlash. It was put on the main page of the show’s website, with no back lash. All it took was one tweet, with no supporting background information, to start a fire storm. The people who targeted Colbert on Twitter never bothered to check their facts. They went on the attack instantly. “Hashtavists” they are called. People who start a movement via a hashtag for a certain cause.
These “hashtavists” have brought down numerous public figures, shows, media, and politicians. Some very well deserve the attention, like former Gov. Anthony Wiener’s tendency to, well, share his wiener, but others are seemingly innocent happenings that are brought to a whole new level when the Twitter-verse jumps on them. Paula Deen is a great example of this. Paula Deen said some things decades ago that came back to haunt her in the present. 10 years ago, a public apology on news outlets and a donation to a charity would’ve ended it nicely for all parties. But now with Twitter “hashtavists” Paula Deen was practically called in for a public hanging.
A new PR strategy has evolved to “handle” these situations. It generally involves the following steps:
- Tweet being taken down as soon as someone realizes it’s starting a fire storm
- Silence for several days
- A mass public apology across several platforms
- Begging for forgiveness
- Potentially salvaging part of your career or your self, if you’re lucky
I do not think this is fair. I think that this generalized plan hurts us. Yes, there are always things that need to be addressed and taken care of. But those things are legitimate, offensive doings. People should know that shows like The Colbert Report, are designed to be satirical commentaries on the world. If you are relying solely on The Colbert Report for your day to day news, you have been sadly misinformed this whole time. To gather up your followers, get a hashtag trending, and fire up the digital pitchforks over a comment made on a satirical show is a bit excessive. Save your digital pitchforks for a real issue, like the dictator doing whatever he wants, to who ever he wants in North Korea or the current situation in Ukraine. For goodness sake, if Americans poured as much energy as they did into taking down “celebrities” as they did trying to hold our politicians accountable, we may actually see some progress in this world.
So Stephen Colbert, I applaud you. I applaud you for not apologizing. I applaud you for NOT booking a slot on every morning news program. I applaud you for saying “Hey guys, first of all that wasn’t tweeted by me and this entire show’s platforms is based on satire.” Social media has given us so much power. But we should be using that power for good, not attacking Kim and Kayne for being in Vogue or Paris Hilton tweeting about having 3 iPhones. Who cares? Channel your inner “hashtavist” for stuff that matters.