Clueless Brian Williams: An 'Outrage' That Congress Didn't Rhapsodize Over Comic Seth Rogen

According to NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, It's an "outrage" that members of Congress didn't sit in rapt attention to every word of self-admitted "pothead" Seth Rogen. The comedian and actor appeared on Capitol Hill, Thursday, to testify on the issue of Alzheimer's disease. As is common, senators filtered in and out of the hearing. Later, Rogen took to Twitter, railing against the poor showing. NBC dutifully played along. 

Williams alerted, "Still ahead for us tonight, outrage. A funny guy gets suddenly serious before a roomful of empty chairs in Washington." [MP3 audio here.] According to journalist Peter Alexander, the actor felt the sting of testifying "before a largely absent Senate subcommittee." Alexander sympathized, asserting this was an example of how "Washington wasn't listening." However, the practice is fairly standard as members have meetings, votes and other congressional duties.

Alexander breathlessly related: 

PETER ALEXANDER: But Rogen, who sold out theaters for years, ended up talking to a tiny audience, with only two of 18 senators sticking around to listen. Rogen made sure that didn't go unnoticed. "All those are senators not prioritizing Alzheimer's," he tweeted afterward. And when Illinois Senator Mark Kirk tweeted this picture of the two together earlier and a note reading, "Thanks to Seth Rogen for speaking out," Rogen shot back: "Senator Kirk, pleasure meeting you. Why did you leave before my speech?" Kirk said he had another meeting but later watched Rogen's testimony. 

Alexander failed to explain how not sitting through Rogen's entiere testimony proves politicians don't care about Alzheimer's. After all, the comic told ABC News that he would most like to smoke pot with Senator Tom Harkin. Perhaps the members of Congress didn't think Rogen's statements would be entirely enlightening. 

In 2013, Rogen told Rolling Stone, "I consider myself more of a pothead than a stoner." 

The Christian Science Monitor explained what Williams and Alexander apparently don't know:

[Rogen] even called out one lawmaker by name, Sen. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois. Rogen tweeted to Senator Kirk that it was nice meeting him beforehand, then asked, “Why did you leave before my speech? Just curious.”

The short answer to that question, as any D.C. intern or badly dressed journalist hack knows, is because that’s standard operating procedure. Many congressional hearings feature only a handful of committee members. Lawmakers have got lots of other things to do, such as deal with other committees, constituents, lobbyists, and votes.


And in a larger sense, the audience for congressional celebrity appearances is off Capitol Hill entirely. They are there because they will draw extra attention from voters and the press. That’s good both for the committee and the celebrity’s issue.

Rogen may be correct that Alzheimer’s does not get the attention from the federal government that it deserves. And shaming senators for nonattendance could generate public pressure on those lawmakers. But it’s also possible it’s counterproductive.

— Scott Whitlock is Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Scott Whitlock on Twitter.