Les Moonves, chairman and chief executive officer of the CBS Corporation, responded to criticism that the network was replacing David Letterman, a liberal comedian and longtime host of the weeknight Late Show program, with Stephen Colbert, another liberal comic and host of The Colbert Report, who is likely to continue making fun of conservatives and Republicans when he leaves his Comedy Channel program to replace Letterman sometime in 2015.
“Ironically, Stephen Colbert is much more moderate than people think he is,” Moonves said on Wednesday. "He's a great social commentator, and that's sort of what we want. That's sort of what David Letterman has been."
The CBS executive made the remarks while taking part in a panel on “Entertainment: The Big Picture” during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, Calif. The discussion was moderated by Janice Min, co-president of the Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter magazines.
Min asked: "Are you concerned about the political views he has expressed on Comedy Central?"
"If you're referring to remarks by Rush Limbaugh that we've attacked the heartland of America, I would respectfully disagree with that assessment of who Stephen Colbert is," Moonves replied.
During his April 10 radio show, Limbaugh declared:
No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values. Now, it's just wide out in the open.
It's the media planting a flag here … they've hired a partisan, so-called comedian to run a comedy show.
But on Wednesday, Moonves praised Colbert's comedic skills and seemed to be confident that the new host will attract a large and politically diverse audience.
"We're looking forward to the interest Stephen is going to bring,” the CBS executive declared. “He's very smart, he's very funny, and it's going to be exciting," he said.
Colbert began his career as an actor before writing for little-known comedy programs and eventually becoming a correspondent on Comedy Central's news-parody program The Daily Show, hosted by comedian Jon Stewart.
In 2005, he left that show to spin off a series of his own, called The Colbert Report -- in which he has pretended to be a conservative cable news anchor in the mold of the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly.
But as NewsBusters has previously reported, Colbert has used his faux conservative persona to launch attacks on conservative critics of ObamaCare and charge that the host of Fox News Channel's weeknight The O'Reilly Factor program "will never be as emotionally mature as a toddler.”
In response, the popular FNC anchor hit back, describing Colbert as a “darling of the far left” and an “ideological fanatic.”
Meanwhile, Colbert also used his program as a platform to praise such liberal Democrats as former president Jimmy Carter for his “left-of-center take on Christianity” and MSNBC’s newest “liberal darling,” young anchor Ronan Farrow.
In January, the “faux conservative” announced his support for striking fast food workers who wanted a wage of $15 per hour and mocked the opponents of that economic policy.
When CBS announced Colbert's hiring, the news on that network and NBC hailed the move while ignoring his liberal mockery of conservatives.
On April 15, many liberals expressed their sadness at losing “the character Colbert played” while O'Reilly charged that because he "built an entire career on pleasing the left,” conservatives won't watch him in his new channel and time slot.
Back on Wednesday, Moonves admitted that television programs that air after prime time do not make as much money as they used to.
"Late night is not what it used to be during the days of Johnny Carson and even the early days of David Letterman," he said. "It was much more of a profit center. The last few years, it's been more about bragging rights."
Moonves then explained his decision to name Letterman's replacement just a week after the host announced he was retiring.
“It was really important for us to fill that void and fill it quickly," he said. "We didn't like the rumors that were out there, especially some of the names that were throwing their names out there -- people that might not have been at the top of our hit parade -- so we needed it done quickly."
If anyone actually believes that Colbert is "much more moderate" than we've seen for the past decage, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'll be happy to sell you -- cheap.