Nine years of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" came to an end Thursday night along with its mythical presiding pundit, as the real-life Stephen Colbert bade the audience farewell.
He was last seen gliding through the clouds in the backseat of Santa's sleigh beside Alex Trebek (don't ask).
Before that, after offing the Grim Reaper and declaring himself immortal (don't ask), he led a glorious singalong in the studio with a room of luminaries ranging from "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, Andy Cohen and Big Bird to George Lucas, Arianna Huffington and Henry Kissinger.
With Randy Newman at the piano, the gathered sang the poignant pop standard whose lyrics go, "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when. But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day."
Actually, Colbert fans know they'll be meeting him again in a few months, this time playing himself as the new host of CBS' "Late Show" taking over for David Letterman, who exits next May.
But none of that mattered during Thursday's bittersweet finale.
At the top of the show, Colbert greeted his followers and set straight any newcomers: "If this is your first time tuning into 'The Colbert Report,' I have some terrible news. ..."
He announced as "a little happy news" for Colbert Nation that a raffle for his flashy anchor desk and his adjoining fireplace set had raised $313,420 for charity.
In discussing his legacy — something this delightfully self-absorbed host was always happy to do — Colbert fired back against the "thinkerati" who, he charged, were questioning his impact.
"But I'm not here to brag about how I changed the world," he went on. "I did something much harder: I 'samed' the world. Does that sound stupid? Well, they said I sounded stupid back in 2005. So THAT'S the same!"
"The Colbert Report" (both t's were always silent) premiered in October 2005 as a spoof of the show hosted by Fox News Channel personality Bill O'Reilly. But the Colbert character developed into a shrewdly satirical observer, preaching the opposite of what real-life Stephen Colbert meant to put across. For this nightly display of Opposite Day, Colbert won a devoted audience of so-called "heroes," plus critical acclaim and two Peabody Awards, which noted that "what started as a parody of punditry is now its own political platform."
An actor, comedian and improv virtuoso, Colbert had created his Stephen Colbert alter ego in 1997 as a "senior correspondent" for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
Then he graduated to a show of his own, where he not only exposed the failings and fumblings of government, society and the media, but he also got directly involved in these issues.
He formed a Super PAC, "Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow," which solicited donations as a demonstration of how money distorts the electoral process.
In 2007, he announced he would be running for president — but only in his native state, South Carolina, whose Democratic Party voted to keep his name off the ballot. With Stewart, he in 2010 staged a "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" as a live TV extravaganza that drew tens of thousands to Washington's National Mall.
Quite a legacy. Was it enough?
"If all we achieved over the last nine years was to come into your home each night and help you make a difficult day a little bit better," said Colbert, for a moment almost getting sentimental — "man, what a waste!"
As usual, he was preaching the opposite of truth.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press.
MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) — Defiantly declaring that FIFA is no longer in crisis, Sepp Blatter said Friday the decision to hold the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar won't be revoked and the governing body will publish a confidential probe into the process that picked those countries as hosts.
The decision by the FIFA executive committee to publish ethics investigator Michael Garcia's report, with witnesses' names taken out, is aimed at lifting the cloud of suspicion that has dogged the 2018 and 2022 tournaments in Russia and Qatar and the December 2010 vote that sent the World Cup to those countries for the first time.
Blatter said only if major new evidence of bidding irregularity comes to light could those votes be reconsidered.
"There is no reason to say that our decisions were wrong. So we will go on sticking to our decisions," Blatter said, speaking through a translator. "There must be huge upheaval, new elements must come to the fore, in order to change this."
The 78-year-old Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term as president, said the decisions by the FIFA executive committee will allow the governing body to move on from four years of controversy.
"We have been in a crisis," Blatter said. "The crisis has stopped because we again have the unity in our government."
All 25 voting members of the executive committee, including three of them placed under investigation by Garcia before he suddenly resigned in protest this week, agreed that the findings of the American lawyer's two-year probe into the 2018 and 2022 voting should be published, Blatter said.
That will happen after the investigations that Garcia initiated into those three people and two others are concluded, he added. Those probes are now in the hands of Cornel Borbely, Garcia's former deputy now promoted in his place.
"There comes a situation where there must be shown unity and there must be shown a determination to end a situation which has created a lot of problems," Blatter said.
The turnaround — FIFA had previously insisted that the 430-page investigation must remain confidential — follows Garcia's resignation this week and parting accusations that FIFA leadership is weak and that the organization cannot be reformed. That increased pressure on FIFA to publish his findings.
"The pressure to do so was very, very strong," executive committee member Theo Zwanziger said. "There were quite a few voices against the publication of the report but there was a very long discussion.
"The fallout from not publishing is worse than transparency," Zwanziger added. "It's a good day for FIFA."
Blatter noted, however, that Garcia's work can only be published after FIFA's strict secrecy rules have been satisfied and the investigations against the five people have been closed.
They include three current FIFA executive committee members — FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar of Spain, Michel D'Hooghe of Belgium and Worawi Makudi of Thailand. There are also cases against Franz Beckenbauer, the Germany great and former FIFA executive committee member, and former Chile football leader Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who led FIFA's inspection team that evaluated the nine World Cup candidates in 2010.
If any of those five individuals are found guilty of wrongdoing they can appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport, potentially further delaying the publication of the full investigation.
"Let us hope that the report can now be published as quickly as possible. The credibility of FIFA depends on it," said UEFA President Michel Platini, a FIFA vice president and member of the executive committee.
Domenico Scala, who heads a FIFA audit panel and recommended to the FIFA executives that they should agree to publish Garcia's findings in "an appropriate way" with some redactions, said he could not predict when the report will finally see the light of day.
"I hope fast," Scala said. "Frankly speaking, I don't know."
Until now, the only indication of what might be in Garcia's report has come from a 42-page summary prepared by FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert. Garcia, however, complained that Eckert's summary misrepresented his findings. He appealed to FIFA and then resigned on Wednesday after his appeal was rejected.
Blatter, sounding combative, again indicated that he will stand for re-election next year and brushed aside suggestions that his leadership is weak.
"It is not my duty to evaluate myself. If you claim that I am a weak leader, then kindly ask the members of the executive committee," Blatter said. "This about weak leadership, let's leave that aside. I am what I am."
Dealing with the Garcia report overshadowed other important decisions from the meeting. Notably, the executive committee said it wants an independent body to be created to ensure that Qatar tackles widely documented labor abuses. Hundreds of migrant workers have died, many apparently from cardiac arrest, in the huge construction drive to ready the Gulf nation for 2022.
"Regarding Qatar and the question of human rights ... FIFA is putting pressure on," Zwanziger said.
In other decisions, FIFA:
—Chose June 14, 2018, for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the final on July 15.
—Boosted prize money for the Women's World Cup by 50 percent from $10 million to $15 million for the 2015 edition, with $2 million for the winning team.
—Opened the possibility for international referees to continue beyond the age of 45 if they pass annual fitness tests.
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London and Ciaran Fahey in Berlin contributed to this report.
HAVANA (AP) - Everyone in Cuba is talking about the abrupt turn in relations with the United States, with one notable exception: Fidel Castro
The larger-than-life retired leader of Cuba so far has made no public comment about the announcement that the U.S. will restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostility. His brother, President Raul Castro, broke the news to the nation in a TV address and may appear again Friday as the Cuban National Assembly holds one of its twice-annual sessions.
For years after he left office in 2006 due to illness, Fidel Castro penned editorials that dutifully were printed in all official media and read verbatim on state TV newscasts. Last year, he said he also was retiring as a columnist, but has since published occasional opinion pieces to comment on world events.
It's not entirely unusual that Castro, 88, has yet to weigh in on this week's news. He waited six days before commenting on the death of close friend and ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2013.
The elder Castro rarely appears in public, and little information about him is officially disclosed, including where he lives. But as before, his silence causes many to wonder.
"I think that Fidel is a little bit older and his activities are very limited, that's for certain," said Maria Teresa Ojito, a 66-year-old language teacher.
But, she said, "I'm not very worried because Raul is the one who's running the country. ... Really, the one who has to make decisions these days and enter into dialogue is Raul, not Fidel."
BALTIMORE (AP) — Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps has pleaded guilty to drunken driving in Baltimore almost three months after he was arrested.
Phelps entered his plea to a charge of driving under the influence in Baltimore City District Court on Friday morning. He was sentenced to a year in prison, but the prison sentence is suspended. He must be on probation for a year and a half.
The 18-time gold medalist was arrested on Sept. 30. Documents show that the 29-year-old Phelps was leaving the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Baltimore when he was pulled over for speeding and crossing the double yellow line while driving in a tunnel. Police say Phelps registered a .14 percent on a blood-alcohol test. The legal limit to drive is .08 percent in Maryland.
A week after his arrest, USA Swimming suspended Phelps for six months.
Phelps entered a six-week treatment program in October. This is his second DUI conviction. Phelps pleaded guilty to drunken driving in 2004 in another Maryland county.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Suspicions that North Korea was behind a destructive hacking attack against Sony Pictures and a threat against movie theaters are intensifying calls for tougher U.S. steps to cut that country's access to hard currency and declare it once more as a state sponsor of terrorism.
At first glance, U.S. options for responding to the hacking attack are limited. Bringing the shadowy hackers to justice appears a distant prospect. A U.S. cyber-retaliation against North Korea would risk a dangerous escalation. And North Korea is already targeted by a raft of sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
"We don't sell them anything, we don't buy anything from them and we don't have diplomatic relations," said William Reinsch, a former senior Commerce Department official who was responsible for enforcing international sanctions against North Korea and other countries.
But the U.S. isn't powerless if it concludes Pyongyang was behind the hack that has prompted Sony to cancel its Christmas Day release of the movie "The Interview."
While U.S. officials are saying privately that they believe North Korea was connected to the attack, the White House has not said so publicly. On Thursday, presidential spokesman Josh Earnest declined to blame North Korea, which has denied responsibility. He said he did not want to get ahead of investigations by the Justice Department and the FBI. Evidence shows the hacking was carried out by a "sophisticated actor" with "malicious intent," he said.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he did not doubt North Korea was involved. He called for tougher U.S. sanctions to cut Pyongyang's access to hard currency, by excluding from the U.S. financial system banks in other countries that hold North Korean funds.
"This is not a just a corporate security issue," Royce told The Associated Press. "It is an act of aggression against the United States by a foreign government. "
Legislation for such banking sanctions, sponsored by Royce and the committee's top-ranking Democrat, passed the House in the summer but was not taken up by the Senate. Current sanctions principally aim at preventing North Korea from trading weapons and acquiring nuclear and missile technology.
The Obama administration has been reluctant to embrace Royce's approach. The biggest impact would be felt by banks in China, complicating U.S. efforts to curry better ties with Beijing.
Evans Revere, a former State Department official and specialist on Korea, said if U.S. officials connect North Korea not only to the hacking attack but the threats to carry out 9/11-style attacks against movie theaters, a case could be made to put North Korea again on a list of state sponsors of terrorism. That designation now is held by Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. North Korea was on the list for 20 years until it was taken off in 2008 by the Bush administration during nuclear negotiations. Royce said putting Pyongyang back on would be warranted.
While North Korea has denied it was involved, its government issued a statement earlier this month describing the hack as a "righteous deed." The movie, a comedy, is about a plot to assassinate North Korea's totalitarian leader, Kim Jong Un.
U.S. detective work pointing to North Korea appears so far to be largely circumstantial, based on subtle clues in the hacking tools left behind and the involvement of at least one computer in Bolivia previously traced to other attacks tied to the North Koreans. Still, the evidence has been considered conclusive enough that a U.S. official told the AP that investigators have now connected the attack to North Korea.
Earnest said the investigation was progressing. He said President Barack Obama's national security advisers were considering a range of options for a "proportional response."
Victor Cha, who served as Asia policy director in the George W. Bush White House, said despite the long history of censuring North Korea over its weapons development, there's no diplomatic playbook to follow in a case like this. "On the nuclear and missile side we have established a pattern of interactions between states on how to respond, but in the cyber world there's no rules right now," he said.
Washington struggles to keep its interaction with North Korea on an even keel at the best of times, through periodic nuclear and rocket tests and dire threats of military reprisals. The U.S. retains nearly 30,000 troops in neighboring South Korea.
Multination talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for aid have stalled for several years, and Pyongyang has been frustrated by what it considers a U.S. reluctance to engage in dialogue. The animosity has built as the U.S. has supported a U.N. inquiry into North Korea's dire human rights record.
Associated Press writer Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles contributed to this report.