Colbert speaks, America follows: All hail Wikiality!

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

Late-night TV personality Stephen Colbert claims he has no qualms with Wikipedia. "I love Wikipedia," he said during the July 31 episode of his Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report," adding that "any site that's got a longer entry on 'truthiness' than on Lutherans has its priorities straight." Colbert, a comedian who masks as a Bill O'Reilly-esque blowhard on TV, found the free-for-all encyclopedia to be a perfect fit for his fact-despising, spin-loving character. "You see, any user can change any entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true," he explained, proceeding to eradicate all references to George Washington owning slaves.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia might not return Colbert's affection after he suggested to his viewers in the same episode that they replace "reality" (frequently maligned on the "Report") with a user-created "wikiality" where something is true if enough people believe it. Consequently, he recommended that his viewers begin by changing the article for "elephant" to say that the population of African elephants has tripled in the past six months. It was, of course, intended to shut up the endangered-species advocacy crowd, a sworn enemy of Colbert's TV persona.

Despite the fact that (I hope) the audience of "The Colbert Report" watches the show because it's funny rather than inspiring, that didn't stop rabid Colbert fans from crashing Wikipedia's servers. (Of course, Wikipedia claimed the bandwidth overload was wholly unrelated to anything involving "truthiness" or "wikiality.") As of the next morning, editing privileges on virtually every page related to either elephants or "The Colbert Report" was still "semi-protected," meaning that only established registered users could edit it.

Colbert gained cult fame as a correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," and national notoriety for announcing at the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner in May that George W. Bush's administration was --because the presidency "isn't sinking, it's soaring." (The speech later became the No. 1 download on the iTunes Music Store for several days.) More recently, Colbert shocked many a network TV morning show when he prodded Robert Wexler, a Democratic Congressman from Florida, into saying "I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do" on the air.

Want to receive the full "Colbert Report" debriefing on "wikiality?" It's on YouTube.