Debate 6/12: A tweet too far

W as anyone really surprised? Roseanne Barr has stepped in it again. Always a loose cannon, she managed to offend just about everyone last week with, no matter how you slice it, a Tweet that few would argue was racist. She compared former Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman, to an ape. The […]

As Barr crossed the line, was cancelation necessary?

Q: Was Disney/ABC correct in their decision to fire Roseanne Barr?

By David H. Landon

Was anyone really surprised? Roseanne Barr has stepped in it again. Always a loose cannon, she managed to offend just about everyone last week with, no matter how you slice it, a Tweet that few would argue was racist. She compared former Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman, to an ape. The outrage over the remark was immediate and nearly unanimous. As quickly, Disney and ABC cancelled her hugely popular new television show, a revival of her show that ended its run 20 years ago. ABC stated, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values.” Although Barr apologized for the tweet blaming it on her Ambien prescription, Barr’s show received the industry “death penalty.”

Over the years Barr has been no stranger to controversy. In 1990 she made a mockery of singing the National Anthem at a San Diego Padres baseball game, accenting her performance by grabbing her own crotch and spitting as she ended the worst rendition of the song ever performed before a live audience. In 1991 she made and then recanted claims about being sexually abused as a child. In 2009 Barr posed for a magazine shoot dressed as Adolph Hitler and put gingerbread people-cookies into an oven. Though we could cite numerous other examples, you get the idea.

A majority, including Hollywood, agrees with the decision to cancel Barr’s show, happy to see its demise because its basic storyline was attempting to show how a struggling blue-collar, working-class, Midwestern family could come to support Donald Trump.

Though Barr has had few defenders, the defense(ish) conversation isn’t whether or not Barr’s remarks could be somehow overlooked and forgiven as “Roseanne just being Roseanne,” but whether or not there is a double standard when it comes to which television celebrities pay a penalty when they cross the line.

Some commentators are pointing out that if ABC really cared about offensive and partisan comments, they never would have let ESPN (also owned by Disney) re-hire Keith Olbermann. The controversial Mr. Olbermann has also reached a new level of juvenile behavior on Twitter and consistently shared his misogynistic comments over the years. Back in 2011, he suggested that now-HLN host S.E. Cupp’s mother should have aborted her. Other politically incorrect commentary survivors include: The View co-host Joy Behar deeming Christianity to be a mental illness; Jimmy Kimmel’s sketch excoriating Christianity (no outrage there); and most recently, the crass statement by TBS comedian Samantha Bee, calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless c**t.” Conservative commentators point out she used the “C” word, perhaps the most vile and demeaning term for a woman, and yet she is still on the air.

Q: Was Disney/ABC correct in their decision to fire Roseanne Barr?


Zero tolerance = intolerance.

If you speak ill of a black person, truth is no longer a defense.

By Ron Kozar

What makes people sick is not Roseanne’s tweet, but the hypocrisy in her firing.

Say any repulsive thing you want about anyone to the right of Michael Bloomberg and they’ll practically give you an Emmy. Say something half as bad about a black, and you’re fired, exiled, ostracized. Wiseacres who’ve said unprintable things about daughters named Palin and Trump get gigs hosting Saturday Night Live and emceeing award galas. But the same people who applaud such high jinks will, in cases like Roseanne’s, suddenly discover a sense of injured decency.

Never mind the ambiguities. Roseanne says she didn’t know Valerie Jarrett was black. You wouldn’t know it either from Jarrett’s straight hair, yellowish skin, and needle nose. By ancestry, she’s more than half white, yet newspeople glibly declare that she is black and that Roseanne’s tweet was therefore racist, as though these are simply facts, like the fact that the sky is blue.

But the hypocrisy goes further. You’re welcome to call a black a gorilla if you’re black too. Muhammad Ali did it to Joe Frazier. Redd Foxx did it to Aunt Esther. And don’t get me started about the epithets blacks fling with impunity at whites, Jews, and each other. The liberal professoriate has been working overtime to explain why what’s sauce for the white goose isn’t sauce for the black gander. But to ordinary people, it still smells like a double-standard. Liberals have taken to blaming comments like Roseanne’s on Trump. In fact, disgust with canned sanctimony over incidents like Roseanne’s is one of the things that elected Trump in the first place.

Regardless of who is to blame, the latest addition to the list of forbidden words is ape.  The contortions that the custodians of culture will put themselves through in matters simian have become downright comical. Item. In Corsicana, Texas, outcries from the ever-offended prompted the removal of a big, plastic gorilla from a playground there, on the theory that gorillas are racist. Only after a lot of face-palming by a lot of normal people did the city to put the gorilla back, though only after painting it yellow. Item. The producers of last year’s remake of “King Kong” faced accusations of racism because the movie features a giant you-know-what. They tried mollifying critics by setting the movie on a Pacific island rather than Africa. Item. Google has stricken the words ape and gorilla from its image-recognition software because it was tagging photos of blacks as gorillas. Now, even a photo of a gorilla can’t be tagged with the word gorilla. Doing so, as they say at ABC, is not who we are.

Why go through such gyrations where apes are concerned? Because, like middle-aged women who can’t stand anything that reminds them of their age, people of a certain race can’t stand anything that reminds them of their resemblance to certain primates. It’s a tough row to hoe. Six studies at Stanford in 2008 concluded that, regardless of cultural conditioning, people from all walks of life associate pictures of black people with apes. Yes, it’s rude to come right out and say it. But an innocent observer without a bigoted bone in his body might still say, hey, if the shoe fits, doesn’t the truth matter?

The truth does matter, and that is why this issue is larger than a stupid tweet by an addled comedienne. The same Thought Police who ended Roseanne’s career have ended other, more consequential careers as well. Consider James Watson, whose Nobel Prize for discovering DNA suggests that he knows a thing or two about genetics. When he dared express the view that nature endowed Africans with less intelligence than it gave other people, he was stripped of his position, forced like Galileo to recant, and packed off to a retirement home. And after Charles Murray supported the same thesis with a bookful of bell-curves, he became persona non grata on every campus. The pillow they suffocated Roseanne with is the same one they use to suffocate honest opinions on important issues. The same words that the Thought Police used on Roseanne—”racist,” “reprehensible,” “not who we are”—were used on Watson, Murray, and other brave scholars whose only prejudice is truth. Someone smarter than I am will have to determine whether ideas like theirs are true. But you’ll never arrive at the truth if the path to it is covered with eggshells of offense that you’ll be fired for stepping on.

We condition people from an early age not to step on those eggshells. By the time he can tie his shoes, a kid bright enough to notice racial patterns in crime, poverty, and behavior has learned not talk about those patterns unless he looks around furtively and lowers his voice. Truth, curiosity, and honesty, we now teach, are less important than “sensitivity.” And the example of Roseanne’s firing will drive home that wrong lesson.


Barr should be barred from baring it all

Roseanne’s tweets are coming home to roost

By Marla Boone

Oh, how the mighty-mouthed have fallen. Roseanne Barr’s eponymous show on ABC, returned to TV after a twenty-year hiatus, was cancelled because of her—to quote Bill O’Reilly—“vicious” comment about Valerie Jarrett. Ms. Jarrett was once a senior advisor to Barack Obama. But it doesn’t matter if she used to hold a Top Secret security clearance or she formerly washed dishes at Denny’s. Barr’s comments were rude, hateful, hurtful, racist, and just plain mean.

Here is what Barr tweeted: “if the muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby =vj.” (sic)

Disney is the parent company of ABC and if there is one thing Disney is about, it’s the dollar. It is no coincidence the “happiest place on earth” is also in the running for one of the costliest places on earth. Any entity that can, without compunction, charge $7.00 for a bag of popcorn—the small bag—has no qualms about prioritizing their bottom line. Barr’s show had generated $45M in advertising for ABC. The Tweeter-In-Chief, who might gain some useful knowledge about prioritizing from Disney, called Barr offering his congratulations on her huge audience. An additional $60M was the projected revenue for next season. These are not insignificant sums. Disney did not get to where it is today by being dumb. They knew advertisers were going to desert “Roseanne” like rats leaving a sinking Pirates of the Caribbean ship. It also appears, however, they knew a line had been crossed. ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey said, “Barr’s Twitter is abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values.” Robert A. Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company (ABC’s corporate mother) said, “There was only one thing to do here and that was the right thing.”

So the question is, was Disney correct in firing Roseanne Barr? As they say in Duluth, “You betcha.” On June 4, the Supreme Court decided in a 7-2 split vote that a baker could refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Opinions of this sort are nothing new. For decades businesses have posted signs stating “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” My personal belief is everyone deserves love. Any consenting adults should be able to pursue that love without prejudice. But as they also say in Duluth, “Should-hood is shit-hood.” There IS prejudice. If a guy with flour in his hair declares “I ain’t a-bakin’ you guys no cake,” then there is simply no way to force him to.

Similarly, if Disney wants to caution Roseanne Barr, “Tweet anything you want but we have limits as to how outrageous people in our employ may be,” they are entirely within their rights. If a business owner cannot, for lack of a better phrase, be master of his/her domain, what’s the point of being a business owner?

Ms. Barr strikes me as a person who is plenty smart. That doesn’t, unfortunately, necessarily mean she has good judgment. People who are, for better or for worse, famous often seem to confuse celebrity with invulnerability. Roseanne used to be genuinely funny. Find a clip of her as a novice performer, owning the stage on the Johnny Carson show. Hilarious. Time passed, her fame grew. She had her face lifted but her standards fell as she kept testing the boundaries. There is absolutely nothing wrong with testing boundaries as long as the tester is willing to accept the inevitable consequences dished out by the testee. In 1990, she massacred the National Anthem and thought it was a joke. She posed for a photo shoot dressed as Adolph Hitler putting gingerbread people-cookies into an oven and thought it was a joke. That is how she tried to pass off this incident as well—as a joke. When the outrage over the latest transgression gained strength, she, in a meaningless effort at damage-control, said she was leaving Twitter but hours later was back on, re-tweeting statements of support and links to conservative web sites. Finally, in the hallowed tradition of Low-Lifes Not-Quite-Anonymous-Enough, she blamed someone/something else. She was, she claimed “ambien tweeting” at 2 a.m. The makers of Ambien released this statement about their product: “Racism is not a known side effect.”

Donald Trump, who should know a thing or ten about sinking ships, has been far less voluble about this momentous blunder than he was in Roseanne Barr’s halcyon days. When asked about his uncharacteristic lack of verbiage, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wouldn’t comment because there are “bigger things going on in the country right now.”

Valerie Jarrett herself has taken the high road, no doubt because there is so much less traffic there. She said, “We have to turn it into a teaching moment.”

Lesson learned? Stay tuned. Literally.

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David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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