Prep School-Educated Colbert Badgers Public School Reform Advocate in Testy Interview

Stephen Colbert began the July 29 edition of The Colbert Report by doing his best to perpetuate liberal’s favorite myth that, in Obama’s words, women make “77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” Using his faux conservative persona, the comedian evinced over-the-top sexism to blast President Obama comments on putting historical female figures on U.S. currency, stating that he needs to “think of the economic consequences here. If we put a woman on the $1 bill it will be worth only 77 cents.”

Even left-wing news sites like Slate and The Daily Beast have recognized that this statistic is misleading, and the calculation does not take into account “differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week.” While the Comedy Central host was able to play up his persona in order to blast conservatives for sexism, he was unable to stay in character for an interview with the Partnership of Educational Justice founder Campbell Brown. The former CNN host came onto the show to promote the organization’s efforts to support a lawsuit filed by seven New York parents “challenging teacher tenure in the public school.” [See video below. Click here for MP3 audio]

Unlike the usual softball interviews Colbert has conducted for liberal public figures like Nancy Pelosi and Bill de Blasio in the past, the Democrat seemed unable to contain his true sentiments as he continuously interrupted Campbell and pressed her on “how” the Partnership is “supporting” the plaintiffs, “who is funding your effort,” why the organization is raising funds, and “who did you raise it from?”

In a typical liberal fashion, one percenter Stephen Colbert, who attended and graduated from a pricey Episcopal day school in Charleston, S.C., did his best to defend teacher’s unions, asking “why are we blaming-- why are we blaming the teachers? Maybe it's the dumb kids,” and attempted to morph the discussion into an “equal education” argument, claiming “doesn't that mean eventually you're going to say every child in the state of New York should have the same amount of money spent on their education?” [Story continues below ad]


Colbert even asked “who gets to say whether a teacher is a good or bad teacher,” questioning whether “parents complaining” would weigh into the decision. Using the teachers union’s favorite argument, he snapped “what if you are someplace where the parents don't want certain things taught to the kids, because I would love my kids not to be taught evolution. Could I get a teacher fired if my community believed evolution wasn't a good thing if the teacher didn't have tenure?” A liberal’s worst nightmare.

Kudos to Campbell Brown for holding her own against the comedian and his left-wing audience. Maybe Colbert could take a break from pushing the liberal agenda to fit some jokes into his next episode.

See transcript below:

Comedy Central
The Colbert Report
August 1, 2014
11:32 p.m. Eastern
2 minutes and 44 seconds


STEPHEN COLBERT: Folks, you know-- if you've been watching this show, if you've been watching this show for the past five years, and I hope have been, it's no secret that Barack Obama is ruining our economy. Ask yourself-- ask yourself this question. Under his leadership are you as rich as you'd like to be? I know I could imagine me having more money. I just did. Well, just listen the latest monetary policy the president is getting from his so-called economic advisors.

BARACK OBAMA: Last week a young girl wrote to ask me why aren't there any women on our currency. And then she gave me like a long list of possible women to put on our dollar bills and quarters and stuff. Which I thought was pretty good idea.

COLBERT: A pretty good idea? A pretty good idea? Just look at our money. It took over 200 years for our currency to achieve the perfect balance of dead white guys and secret illuminati symbols. Please accept my application. And think of the economic consequences here. If we put a woman on the $1 bill it will be worth only 77 cents. Plus think about this. I mean just from a moral, just from a moral point of view if my wallet is filled with ladies, I can't keep it next to my butt, I'm a married man. And what about when you and your bros are having a guys’ night out if there is a female face on the money tucking into a G string might somehow feel demeaning to women. And sure right now there aren't any women on our cash but there are plenty of portraits of women in other important places. Bathroom signs, mud flaps, syrup bottles. And if women get on paper money, I demand a Mr. Buttersworth. Where does Obama expect to fit all these women? Is he going to make new bills? What denomination will it be: 3, 7, shoe? More importantly, what president Obama fails to realize here is that we already have currency with a woman on it. The $2 bill. It's not used much, I know, but it probably honors our founding mother, Mrs. Doubtfire.

11:51 p.m. Eastern
7 minutes and 10 seconds


COLBERT: Now you are a former anchor for CNN and NBC. Since leaving TV news you have become an advocate for school choice and education reform. The most recent project is the Partnership for Educational Justice which files against the state of New York this week challenging teacher tenure in the public school. Now I'm no fan of unions, but why do you have your guns out for these people. It's the same reason I am? So they can quit their lavish lifestyle of their 1983 Honda Civics driving around town?

CAMPBELL BROWN: First let me correct something you said. We're not filing the lawsuit. Seven parents in New York City who have kids in New York state who have kids in public schools are bringing this lawsuit.

COLBERT: And what is your role, just a butinski, what are you?

BROWN: We're helping them and supporting them.

COLBERT: How are you supporting them, giving them money? Is it cash? Any money here? No money?

BROWN: No, we're helping them find legal help in order to bring their case.

COLBERT: You're not helping pay for the legal help?

BROWN: The legal help is pro bono.

COLBERT: It's pro Bono. I don't speak Spanish. Sorry, no habla pro Bono.

BROWN: Kirkland Ellis is the law firm doing the work and they're doing for free, that means for free.

COLBERT: Okay. Okay.  So you got some people mad at you for this. This doesn't happen very often but there were protestors outside of my studio today.

BROWN: I heard.

COLBERT: Okay? Going after a Campbell Brown. What you have done to upset these people?

BROWN: Well, I mean they're trying to silence the debate, that is a really important debate that we should be having in this country.

COLBERT: Should they not have the right to protest?

BROWN: Well, of course they should.

COLBERT:Are you silencing the protest?

BROWN: Absolutely not. But I want these parents to have a voice in this debate too. And what they're trying to do is change a public education system in this country that people across the political spectrum believe is in crisis and needs to change.

COLBERT: Okay, how is it crisis in New York, what is the problem here?

BROWN: So if you look at the outcomes, student outcomes in New York, okay, so 91 percent of teachers around the state of New York are rated either effective or highly effective and yet 31 percent, 31 percent of our kids are reading, writing and doing math at our grade level. How does that compute? How you can argue the status quo is okay with numbers like that?

COLBERT: I went to public school in South Carolina and 31 percent sounds like a majority to me. No? Got that wrong? Okay. Okay. But so why are we blaming-- why are we blaming the teachers? Maybe it's the dumb kids, you ever thought about that? Kids are rated effective maybe we cut the kids loose and put them back in the bobin factory. Is it about that?

BROWN: This is not about blaming teachers

COLBERT: Not about blaming teachers? Sounds like you are, the teachers union, you’re blaming the teachers union here, aren't you?

BROWN: I am blaming the teacher's union because they are fighting attempts to change laws that are anachronistic, that everybody thinks need to change

COLBERT: Again, I don't --

BROWN: Outdated, antiquated.

COLBERT: Outdated, okay, that sounds good.

BROWN: So you know it comes down to what your priorities are. And if public education is about kids, then every decision we make should be focused on the question of is this good for a child. And that should be the driving focus and the priority, when we decide where our policies should be and what our laws should be.

COLBERT: Okay, one of the um–they're going to clap --

BROWN: What do they know!

COLBERT: You are playing the good for child card. Okay. Is this based on children being able to get access to equal education?

BROWN: That's exactly right. There was a similar case in California. And the plaintiffs in that case won. And can I just mention some of our plaintiffs are here tonight, and they are very happy to be here.

COLBERT: You can mention, I’ll edit it out but you can mention it. Alright, but now, the thing is aren't you opening a can of worms there because if you say the kids are entitled to equal education if that is your argument, doesn't that mean eventually you're going to say every child in the state of New York should have the same amount of money spent on their education? Rich community, poor community, pool it all in, split it all up among Bobby, Susie, and Billy everywhere. Because the argument is everyone gets the same opportunity.

BROWN: But you're suggesting that it's all about the money. And I think-- .

COLBERT: You're suggesting it's about equality and money is one of the equations in equality or have I just schooled you?

BROWN: There have been many cases brought to fight the cause that are you bringing up right now. But in addition to that, because I do think there should be equality in the money, I think we should be paying teachers more. But on top of that, we should also be treating teachers like professionals, and evaluating them and trying our best to get an effective teach her in every kid's classroom. And all the research shows that the least effective teachers are being centered in the most disadvantaged schools. So the poorest-- .

COLBERT: How does that work, how does that work out?

BROWN: So what the tenure laws do, combined with these dismissal protections, is make it impossible to fire a teacher who is found to be incompetent. It takes on average 830 days to fire a teacher who has been found to be incompetent.

COLBERT: Who gets to say whether a teacher is a good or bad teacher? Who gets to make that call?

BROWN: It's a combination of the principals and the people who are in charge of, you know, you have to evaluate.

COLBERT: Parents complaining, parents complaining?

BROWN: If a lot of parents are complaining, there is probably something to that.

COLBERT: What if are you someplace where the parents don't want certain things taught to the kids, because I would love my kids not to be taught evolution. Could I get a teacher fired if my community believed evolution wasn't a good thing if the teacher didn't have tenure.

BROWN: That is one of the arguments that the unions make, that they're going to lose-- .

COLBERT: I'm not in the in the union, I’m not in the union but I did make that argument.

BROWN: –That they are going to lose due process rights if we change these laws but that's simply not true. Everybody has a right to due process and a right to a fair hearing. It's very hard to argue that a law that makes teacher layoff decisions or employment decisions solely based on seniority is the right thing to do. When you have the teacher of the year in California being laid off and a teacher who has been found to be incompetent keeping their job. I mean, what does that do to the kids? I get that you want to defend teachers. And nobody wants to attack teachers.

COLBERT: I don't really want to defend teachers or unions, I mostly just want to attack you. Just trying to win, Campbell.

BROWN: Why? Why?

COLBERT: Just trying to win, all right. Your organization, where does its money comes from? That is one of the things they asked me to ask you.

BROWN: I saw that on my Twitter feed today. Who is funding this effort?

COLBERT: Who is funding your effort?

BROWN: Kirkland Ellis, the law firm.

COLBERT: The law firm is funding it.

BROWN: The law firm is doing this for free so we haven't gone out to raise money.

COLBERT: You haven't raised any money.

BROWN: I'm going it to be raising lots of money because we're going to try to bring-- .

COLBERT: Well obviously, after this, the Colbert bump, you're going to be rolling in it.

BROWN: Yes, please, send me it! But we want this to be, we want this to be a national effort. We want to help parents in states across the country who want to do similar things.

COLBERT: So the Partnership for Educational Justice has not raised any money so far.

BROWN: Yeah, we are raising money.

COLBERT: And who did you raise it from?

BROWN: I'm not going to reveal the donors because the people who are out there--

COLBERT: I respect that because I have had a super pac.

BROWN: I hear you. But part of the reason is, the people who are outside today trying to protest, trying to silence our parents, who want to have a voice in this debate.

COLBERT: Exercising the first amendment rights.

BROWN: Absolutely. But they're also going to go after people who are funding this. And I think this is a good cause and an important cause. And if someone wants to contribute to this cause without having to put their name on it, so they become a target of the people who are outside earlier today, then I respect that.

COLBERT: Well, I respect you. 

Laura Flint
Laura Flint is a 2014 summer intern for the MRC's News Analysis Division.