Stephen Colbert vs. “Alternative Facts”: A Lifelong Rivalry

colbertThe first week of Donald Trump’s presidency has begun, and one of the weekend’s biggest headlines revolved around the phrase “alternative facts” — a term used by Trump adviser and spokesperson Kellyanne Conway to defend White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s false claim that Friday marked “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” During yesterday’s press conference, Spicer took his dubious relationship with the truth to a new level: “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” he told the crowd of reporters. “There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention is never to lie to you.” So there you have it: In 2017 America, the current debate is over facts vs. “alternative facts” and whether or not we can trust a government that claims, essentially, that their lies aren’t really lies unless they feel like they’re lying when they lie.

This should all sound terribly familiar to fans of Stephen Colbert, who has made calling out conservatives’ long-running war on cold, hard facts — or, as he labeled it in 2005, “truthiness” — a lifelong endeavor. From The Daily Show to The Colbert Report to his new post on The Late Show, here’s a roundup of some of Colbert’s best reflections on facts, non-facts, truths, non-truths, truthiness, and Trumpiness that are well worth remembering in our new “post-truth,” Trump-era world:

The No-Fact Zone (November 2003)

“Tired of statements backed up by research? Then take a spin in the No-Fact Zone! Quote all the statistics you want, but in my book, prenatal care is just more pork barrel politics.”

Truthiness (October 2005)

“Cause that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen — the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your stomach than in your head? Look it up. Now, somebody’s gonna say, ‘I did look that up, and it’s wrong.’ Well, mister, that’s cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, try looking it up in your gut. I did, and my gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works.”

White House Correspondents’ Dinner (April 2006)

“Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in ‘reality.’ And reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Wikiality (July 2006)

“Together, we can create a reality that we can all agree on — the reality we just agreed on.”

Facts (January 2007)

“Until now, folks, my job has been to protect you from the facts. Now, my job is to bring you the selective facts that will protect you.”

Truth from the Gut (February 2009)

“So America, take a good hard look at your gut and ask yourself: How far up your own ass are you willing to go? Because, rest assured, for me and Glenn Beck, the answer is all the way.”

Jon Kyl Tweets Not Intended to Be Factual Statements (April 2011)

“But nation, when you tweet something you know to be false about Senator Kyl or anyone else, be sure to use the hashtag #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement, because Jon Kyl taught us that makes it okay.”

Paul Ryan’s Misleading GOP Convention Speech (August 2012)

“If we cared about facts, would Warren G. Harding have invented the cotton gin? Would President Reagan have won the 1987 NBA Slam Dunk Contest? No! Besides, may I remind everyone out there: This is the presidential race, and to win a race, sometimes you need to juice. Ryan stretching the truth to make his speech more effective is just another effective form of doping — in that if you believe him, you are a dope.”

Truthinews (June 2013)

“Luckily, now truthinews is here to usher in a new standard of broadcasting. First we ask you what you think the news is, then report that news you told us back to you, then take an instant Twitter poll to see if you feel informed by yourself, which we will read on the air until we reach that golden day when we are so responsive to our viewers that cable news is nothing but a mirror, a logo, and a news crawl.”

The Colbert Report’s Unintended Educational Value (June 2014)

“Nation, this is an historic moment for the Report. I have been ranked the most informative of all American news organizations, and I am incredibly sorry. Because when we began this show, I promised to feel the news at you from my gut. That’s why I yank everything I say directly out of my ass — because it’s the shortest distance between my gut and you. I never intended to be an ‘educator.’ What’s next, getting paid like one? I let you down, nation. Clearly I must work harder at informing you less.”

Tip/Wag – Breitbart (November 2014)

“I salute Breitbart for not taking down a headline that you know is false! You are craven political hatchet men. Oh — oh they eventually took it down? Oh, my apologies. They are craven political hatchet men (corrected).”

Trumpiness (July 2016)

“These legitimately angry voters don’t need a leader to say things that are true or feel true — they need a leader to feel things that feel feels. And that is why I believe Donald Trump is a leader for our times — an emotional megaphone for voters full of rage at a government that achieves nothing, an economic system that leaves them behind, and politics that elects people unfit for the job. And if you don’t share their feeling that you don’t recognize your country anymore, trust me: If Trump wins, you will.”

Face the Nation interview (December 2016)

“One of Trump’s surrogates, Scottie Nell Hughes, said that facts don’t matter anymore — that there are no facts. That’s truly in a whole new world. That’s before God said ‘Let there be light’ — that’s absolute chaos. And that scares me. The idea that facts don’t exist anymore is actually scary to me, whereas if there are no facts anymore, then there is nothing to agree upon, and so if you can’t agree, you can’t build anything.”

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