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Stephen Colbert spoke to Ariel Levy, saying he preferred to be viewed as a comedian, not a crusader.

COMEDY AS NEWS: “I’m much more worried about people getting their entertainment from news than getting their news from entertainment,” said The Onion’s head writer, Todd Hanson, during a panel on political humor at The New Yorker Festival Saturday, adding that the Tina Fey send-up of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin may have “saved the election.” Amidst the wisecracks on the panel, which included an executive producer of “The Colbert Report,” Andy Borowitz, and Jim Downey of “Saturday Night Live,” were notes of genuine earnestness, reflecting a general sentiment that there was a lot at stake this time around.

But Samantha Bee of “The Daily Show” said she didn’t believe her show’s viewers used it as their sole news source. “They’d have to be getting their news from somewhere in order to find the humor in our show,” she said.

There was some incredulity that Bee is still able to get man-on-the-street interviews featuring inane comments, since the show is so well known. Said Hanson: “We don’t make people look dumb — they are dumb.”

To which The New Yorker’s Susan Morrison replied: “Of course, we don’t have any dumb people here.”

“No,” said Borowitz, “They’re at the New York Post festival.”

Later that day, Stephen Colbert spoke to Ariel Levy, saying he preferred to be viewed as a comedian, not a crusader. “I don’t want to wear a badge and shoot up the bad guys on my show. It’s not helpful for me to think about what I do as crusading. It’s most important that it’s a joke. It’s not important that it change the world,” he said. He also believes his show doesn’t speak truth to power. “It’s saying, ‘F--k you,’ to power.” But the real Colbert, separate from the character, is conflicted about his impact on guests. ”I don’t care what they think of me, but I am worried about their feelings. They’re nice [people] — except for Bill Kristol.”

And, though humor programs consistently have produced the most trenchant critiques this political season, don’t count out the so-called mainstream media as utterly cowed. Asked about how he responds to the McCain campaign’s attempts to discredit New York Times reporting, executive editor Bill Keller replied: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page, just to show them that they can’t get away with it.”

On the same panel, The Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said one reason Palin had confounded the public was because she was young and looked so different from other women in Washington, whom she described as being “like little refrigerators, being wheeled through the halls of Congress. They’re blunt, boxlike things.” And, while she was unwilling to submit to a questioner’s premise that the coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton was sexist, she did concede that Clinton lost an hour every morning to hair, makeup and wardrobe, putting her at a disadvantage to Barack Obama. But don’t get Noonan wrong: “I don’t want to see [female politicians] without makeup, either.” — Irin Carmon and Stephanie D. Smith


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