There are two verified Twitter accounts associated with the Colbert Report, although neither is likely run by Stephen Colbert himself. One of those is @StephenAtHome, the other is @ColbertReport. The @ColbertReport account summoned an internet outrage tornado yesterday by tweeting “"I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
The joke was a reference to Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s argument that he didn’t need to change his team’s name, since Snyder had started a charitable foundation for Native Americans.
Colbert has made similar jokes in the context of his show and they’ve been received as he intended them — as jokes about racism, rather than racist jokes. But Twitter isn’t great at context, and @ColbertReport has has over a million followers. Many of the people who saw his tweet hadn’t seen the segment it came from, and in isolation, it just looked like a weirdly racist joke.
Over the past day or so, #CancelColbert has trended on Twitter. Over at @StephenAtHome, someone posted a tweet saying that @ColbertReport was run by Comedy Central, and had no oversight from anyone on staff at the Colbert Report. Which doesn’t really seem to have mollified anyone — #CancelColbert continues unabated.
When there’s a fight on the internet, and you write about it, this is the part of the post where you’re supposed to explain (in the tone of a calm, moral know-it-all) who’s right and who’s wrong.
In this case, I feel unable to. It’s easy to side with Colbert and his staff — I believe them when they say that the offending tweet is probably the fault of some anonymous Comedy Central PR employee. Plus, I feel a lot of sympathy for them - a joke that was an angry attack on racism is being perceived as racist.
But also, if you’re on Twitter and you see what looks, on its face, like a pretty baldly racist joke from a successful media figure, it’s rational to be outraged about it. And if someone broadcasts something hateful to you without context, maybe you won’t immediately feel obligated to go on a fact-finding mission for more context that would exonerate the speaker.
The whole thing just feels like a genunine misunderstanding. The good news, I suppose, is that it should blow over soon enough.
To put it mildly, it’s extremely, extremely unlikely Comedy Central will cancel a successful show because of a blunder from Comedy Central’s own PR division. The only cancellation I could imagine coming from this is the @ColbertReport Twitter account, and I bet even that emerges unscathed. In the end, the internet is a factory that generates outrages, so people will move on to something else in a few days, or hours. In the meantime, I just feel a little sympathy for everyone involved.