Colbert embarrassed himself in Kamala Harris interview


One of the reasons high-profile politicians appear on late-night television is that it gives them a chance to advance their agenda without being forced to answer overly difficult questions, and what happened between Stephen Colbert and Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday night’s edition of the “The Late Show” can be seen as a case study in that phenomenon.

Harris appeared on the program just days after the political media ecosystem was set on fire by a CNN report in which backers of the vice president expressed frustration with the Harris “pile-on” ahead of what’s sure to be a bruising reelection campaign for President Joe Biden.

The story detailed an apparent rift between Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has reportedly had trouble getting Harris to return her phone calls after the senator made waves in an interview with a Boston radio program. In that interview, Warren said she would support Biden for a second term should he officially announce that he will run again, but when asked about Harris returning as Biden’s second-in-command, she said, “I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team.”

Colbert was in a great position to explore the details of the CNN report with Harris, given that it published only a few days prior. Instead, here are some of the questions he asked her, paraphrased for brevity’s sake: What’s the job of the vice president? How does your experience jibe with the television show “Veep”? Are you in the legislative branch or the executive branch? What do you like about America? 

The only question that wasn’t a softball was how the Biden administration can reconcile the president’s stated commitment to block any attempts to drill for oil on public lands with his recent decision to approve the controversial Willow Project, a massive oil drilling plan in Alaska that will tap into the state’s National Petroleum Reserve.  

“People are saying that’s breaking a campaign promise. What’s the calculus there?” Colbert asked her.

“I understand the concerns that have been made, but here’s the thing: When you look at what our administration has done, it’s historic in terms of an investment in a clean energy economy,” Harris replied. “We are putting America back on the map globally, recognizing that we must live up to our role in terms of our ability to invest in the future, create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Colbert pressed Harris lightly, asking her if there was any discussion in the White House about what kind of criticism the administration may receive following Biden’s decision to approve the project. In response, Harris gave one of her hallmark word-salad answers.

“I think the concerns are based on what we should all be concerned about,” she said. “But the solutions have to be, and include, what we are doing in terms of going forward, in terms of investments.”

A natural follow-up would be, “So were there discussion or not?” or even, simply, “What does that mean?” But alas, from there the two moved into a discussion about which branch of the federal government Harris works in. Now, I realize that Colbert is a comedy show host, not a journalist. But before he hosted “The Late Show,” he was known for being one of sharpest political voices on late-night television. When he hosted the eponymous “Colbert Report,” he pretended to be a conservative blowhard — a satirical schtick done with such deftness that it often threw his interview subjects off balance, resulting in some of the funniest, most compelling television of the 21st century. 

To have the vice president in front of him and ask the questions he did, completely bypass the biggest Harris story of the week (the Warren feud) and fail to discern the meaning of “I think the concerns are based on what we should all be concerned about,” is frankly embarrassing. Wednesday’s interview lends credence to critics who argue that “The Late Show” ruined Colbert’s interviewing style. As someone who used to watch “The Colbert Report” religiously, it’s sad to see how far he’s fallen.


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