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'Colbert Report' Broadcasts From Iraq

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'Colbert Report' Broadcasts From Iraq


'Colbert Report' Broadcasts From Iraq

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And the agent for comedian Steven Colbert must be thrilled by the publicity surrounding Colbert's latest move. Colbert parodies a conservative TV talk show host, and this week he is broadcasting from Baghdad. The first thing Colbert did was declare victory in Iraq. NPR's Quil Lawrence took in last night's show.

QUIL LAWRENCE: All week, American soldiers have been crowding into an old palace hall on the U.S. military base near Baghdad airport to catch "The Colbert Report."

The comedian warmed up the audience with some banter before the show wearing a camouflage suit. He even put on some harmony as a soldier sang the "Star Spangled Banner."

(Soundbite of song, "Star Spangled Banner")

Unidentified Man: And the rocket's red glare…

LAWRENCE: Most of the troops know by now that Colbert is a large donor to several charities for wounded veterans and their families. And during the first show in the series, he did something to prove his commitment. By video link from Washington, President Barack Obama ordered the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, to shave off Colbert's perfect anchorman's hairdo. Colbert spent the rest of the week's broadcast with a crew cut. In the audience, Navy Commander Otto Lee said he's a longtime fan.

Commander OTTO LEE (U.S. Navy): Oh, I think it's great that he's out here to help cheer up our troops here. It's humor. It's a very powerful tool to get people's attention. And I think sometimes with the economy in the States, with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is taking a backseat in a lot of the news reporting.

LAWRENCE: Some of the troops took a bit of persuading to like Colbert. While his stage character is a parody of a rightwing conservative, it's understood that his real politics swing in the opposite direction. Colbert may be most famous for an excoriating roast he gave of then President George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. But John Hanson of the USO says there was no hesitation to bring Colbert to Iraq.

Mr. JOHN HANSON (Senior Vice President, Marketing & Communications, USO): Look at some of the old Bob Hope routines. He jokes about people - he'll say, bet you thought you guys are going home by now, that kind of thing. We've brought Al Franken, we've brought Robin Williams. On the other side, we've brought Wayne Newton and Drew Carey, and none of them talk about politics. They're here to entertain the troops and they all do that.

LAWRENCE: Colbert's ridiculous stage character often disarms his guests before posing very serious questions. Last night's first interviewee was deputy prime minister of Iraq, Barham Salih. Colbert asked him about progress to a democracy.

Deputy Prime Minister BARHAM SALIH (Iraq): We are making progress and we are moving along, thanks to the help of this wonderful U.S. military who have come from afar to help us and give us a chance to building a decent nation here.

Mr. STEPHEN COLBERT (Host, "The Colbert Report"): How…

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. COLBERT: Please, sir. Let me tell you how this works, I do the pandering. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LAWRENCE: Salih prostested that he meant what he said, though he's one of the few members of the Iraqi government who will publicly thank American troops for being in Iraq. Salih is from Iraq's ethnic Kurdish minority, which strongly supports the American occupation from their autonomous region in the north of the country. Colbert asked Salih a pointed question.

Mr. COLBERT: Now, sir, you're a Kurd.

Deputy Prime Minister SALIH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COLBERT: And you once advocated for a separate Kurdish State.

Deputy Prime Minister SALIH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COLBERT: Why is a united Iraq the best answer now?

Deputy Prime Minister SALIH: Well, life is not about perfect solutions. Perhaps every Kurd would like to see an independent Kurdistan still. But we all have accepted - Kurds, Arabs, Shiites and Sunnis - that a democratic Iraq will provide all of these communities of Iraq with most of what they need. We…

Mr. COLBERT: So you're kind of like Texas. You'd like to be your own state, but you see the reality on the ground.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Deputy Prime Minister SALIH: That's a good one. That's a good one.

Mr. COLBERT: Okay.

Deputy Prime Minister SALIH: That's a good one. Yeah, (unintelligible).

LAWRENCE: The next guest was the head of ground operations in Iraq, Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby. Again, Colbert demonstrated the growing power and influence of news parody. It was a rare instance where General Jacoby spoke to a journalist or at least someone who plays a journalist on TV.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. COLBERT: Well, that's it for the (unintelligible). Good night, everybody.

(Soundbite of music)

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