Commentary Magazine


Topic: Martin Bashir

Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Hypocrisy

I don’t write this every day but sometimes it needs to be said. Liberals have a point. Not about ObamaCare or their plans to increase spending and taxes. But about Phil Robertson and the hypocrisy of some of his conservative supporters who are outraged about the fact that the Duck Dynasty star was suspended for uttering critical remarks about homosexuality as well as some bizarre comments about the Jim Crow era that for some reason got less attention than his conservative Christian take on gays and sex.

Robertson was suspended yesterday by the A&E network that runs the hit reality show about a family business that makes duck calls after an outcry over things the hunting patriarch said in a GQ interview. In response, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Robertson (who is a resident of his state) was a victim of the “politically correct crowd.” Sarah Palin weighed in with her trademark lowbrow pandering style on her Facebook page:

Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.

Are they right? Not really.

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I don’t write this every day but sometimes it needs to be said. Liberals have a point. Not about ObamaCare or their plans to increase spending and taxes. But about Phil Robertson and the hypocrisy of some of his conservative supporters who are outraged about the fact that the Duck Dynasty star was suspended for uttering critical remarks about homosexuality as well as some bizarre comments about the Jim Crow era that for some reason got less attention than his conservative Christian take on gays and sex.

Robertson was suspended yesterday by the A&E network that runs the hit reality show about a family business that makes duck calls after an outcry over things the hunting patriarch said in a GQ interview. In response, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Robertson (who is a resident of his state) was a victim of the “politically correct crowd.” Sarah Palin weighed in with her trademark lowbrow pandering style on her Facebook page:

Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.

Are they right? Not really.

Robertson is entitled to his opinion about faith, sex, race, or anything else on his mind. But his right to free speech doesn’t entitle him to a job on an A&E show. If the network doesn’t wish to be associated with such views, they are free to tell him to take a hike. For the same reason MSNBC was within its rights to can actor Alec Baldwin when he used a homophobic slur and then lied about it. The same network was also right when it eased Martin Bashir, one of the network’s left-wing opinion slingers, out after he used despicable language about the same Sarah Palin. At that time conservatives (including me) wondered what was going on when for weeks Bashir went unpunished for behaving in such an atrocious manner. Nobody on the right thought Bashir’s right of free speech was at stake. Instead, they correctly identified the issue as the hypocrisy of liberals who are quick to brand conservatives who speak out of turn as extremists and radicals who are primarily responsible for the lack of civility in politics today.

The right to free speech has nothing to do with having a gig on television. No one has a right to such a job and nothing prevents those who run these outfits from choosing who works for them. That applies to Bashir as well as to Robertson.

Those defending Robertson are making a broader point. They fear that anyone who is critical of gays and states it from a conservative theological frame of reference is particularly vulnerable to being singled out for being politically incorrect. There’s something to that, as popular culture has rendered those with negative views about homosexuality, whether rooted in faith or not, as anathema. Gays shouldn’t be subjected to abuse or insults, but the fact that Robertson’s comments about them sparked more outrage than his Christian chauvinism or his idiotic assertion that blacks were happy under Jim Crow tells us a lot about our culture these days.

It should also be pointed out that there’s something odd about A&E punishing a member of the cast of Duck Dynasty for uttering comments that seem in character for a program whose conceit is an opportunity to see backwoods hunters at home, work, and play. But if they think the bearded stars of the hit show shouldn’t offend people in this manner, then they can discharge him–although the suspension for future work would make more sense if they took the reruns that continue to appear on their channel off the air too. Reality shows are peopled largely by outrageous figures that specialize in foolish or vulgar behavior. Jindal wasn’t entirely wrong when he said on Twitter that there was something faintly ridiculous that there was plenty of room in the entertainment business for a trashy vulgarian like Miley Cyrus but none for the likes of Robertson.

But hypocrisy works both ways. Those who are chortling about Jindal and Palin’s support for Robertson were silent when Bashir was trashing the former Alaska governor. Liberals are quick to seize on any outrageous thing said by a figure on the right and shrug their shoulders or ignore it when left-wing politicians, pundits, or TV talkers make hateful or prejudicial remarks.

What we need here is not so much more civility—though that would be nice—but some consistency when it comes to outrage. If you think gays shouldn’t be subjected to negative or prejudicial remarks on TV, then try to be just as interested when people of faith or conservatives are given the same treatment. The same advice applies to conservatives. Selective outrage that is only generated when someone whose political opinions you disagree with crosses the line is what is really turning our public square into a verbal junkyard.

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Can MSNBC Clean Up Its Act?

The low level of political discourse is a favorite topic for pundits who want to trash our political class. That is especially true on the left, which has often taken the position that conservatives and Tea Partiers are most to blame for coarsening political discussions and demonizing President Obama and liberals. But as anyone who regularly monitors the cable news channels knows, it’s easy to see that this assumption is largely a fiction. MSNBC, which has become the avowed home of leftism on television, has become notorious for having hosts like Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton who regularly plumb the depths with the sort of invective that would embarrass even most gutter politicians. But last Friday, Martin Bashir topped them with a scripted rant that was extreme even for him.

Reacting to a comment by Sarah Palin about the mounting national debt sentencing future American generations to the moral equivalent of “slavery,” Bashir went off the deep end. An argument can be made that slavery is, like the Holocaust, something that should not be treated as a political metaphor but rather a unique crime to which nothing—other than actual enslavement—should be compared. But Bashir wasn’t satisfied with merely reproving Palin or calling her a “dunce,” which he has done before. Instead, he dug up a historical text about the way slaves were treated in the 18th century and said Palin should be subjected to the same atrocity: to be defecated upon and to have someone urinate into her mouth.

Not surprisingly, Bashir’s crude threat did not set off much of a media firestorm. That is due, at least in part, to the low ratings of his show, but also to the notion that Palin is the sort of person about whom one can say virtually anything with impunity. But the protests that did come in forced Bashir to apologize yesterday on his program. As apologies go, it was quite satisfactory. Rather than the usual weasel words about being sorry that someone was offended, Bashir acknowledged not only that he was wrong but also that he was guilty of contributing to all that was wrong about our political system. Fair enough, but what we’re still waiting for is an apology from his network.

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The low level of political discourse is a favorite topic for pundits who want to trash our political class. That is especially true on the left, which has often taken the position that conservatives and Tea Partiers are most to blame for coarsening political discussions and demonizing President Obama and liberals. But as anyone who regularly monitors the cable news channels knows, it’s easy to see that this assumption is largely a fiction. MSNBC, which has become the avowed home of leftism on television, has become notorious for having hosts like Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton who regularly plumb the depths with the sort of invective that would embarrass even most gutter politicians. But last Friday, Martin Bashir topped them with a scripted rant that was extreme even for him.

Reacting to a comment by Sarah Palin about the mounting national debt sentencing future American generations to the moral equivalent of “slavery,” Bashir went off the deep end. An argument can be made that slavery is, like the Holocaust, something that should not be treated as a political metaphor but rather a unique crime to which nothing—other than actual enslavement—should be compared. But Bashir wasn’t satisfied with merely reproving Palin or calling her a “dunce,” which he has done before. Instead, he dug up a historical text about the way slaves were treated in the 18th century and said Palin should be subjected to the same atrocity: to be defecated upon and to have someone urinate into her mouth.

Not surprisingly, Bashir’s crude threat did not set off much of a media firestorm. That is due, at least in part, to the low ratings of his show, but also to the notion that Palin is the sort of person about whom one can say virtually anything with impunity. But the protests that did come in forced Bashir to apologize yesterday on his program. As apologies go, it was quite satisfactory. Rather than the usual weasel words about being sorry that someone was offended, Bashir acknowledged not only that he was wrong but also that he was guilty of contributing to all that was wrong about our political system. Fair enough, but what we’re still waiting for is an apology from his network.

As both Mediate’s Joe Concha and Fox News’ Howard Kurtz have written, imagine what would ensue if either Neil Cavuto or Jake Tapper—Bashir’s time slot competition on Fox and CNN—had suggested that Hillary Clinton should be treated in this matter. It’s also hard to believe either would have kept their job or avoided a long suspension. Moreover, any other network would have thought they had no choice but to apologize abjectly regardless of the mea culpa offered by the person who said the words. This is not a minor point because Bashir’s attack on Palin was not an offhand remark but a prepared monologue read off a teleprompter that had to have been viewed by a producer.

So rather than merely a minor kerfuffle, Bashir’s offensive behavior illustrates that there is a double standard by which liberal pundits and networks believe they can be judged.

Oddly enough, as Kurtz pointed out, actor Alec Baldwin has been suspended by MSNBC for his latest public antics in which he uttered a gay slur at a reporter. But if you slime a conservative like Sarah Palin you don’t lose a day of work even if you use language that marks a historic low for political attacks. It should be remembered that not everyone who works at MSNBC is a guttersnipe like Sharpton, Matthews, or Bashir. No matter what their politics might be, those who still hold to some standard of integrity there must be wondering exactly what has happened to their profession? Although we would hope to never hear another MSNBC rant about conservatives’ lack of civility. But even after Bashir’s apology, you know we will.

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Liberal Overreach: The IRS and Race

The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

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The theme of the last couple of weeks for liberals has been “overreach.” That’s the word they’ve been using incessantly to try to depict all efforts to hold the administration accountable for a trio of scandals that have undermined the credibility of the Obama presidency. But while the lingering questions about the lies told about Benghazi as well as those about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists are troubling, the need to push back on the investigation into the IRS scandal is a particular priority for the president’s cheering section. Thus, instead of seeking to work harder to get to the bottom of the troubling targeting of conservatives by the nation’s tax agency, many Democrats and others on the left have concentrated on trying to delegitimize those asking the questions.

The principle target of those attacks has been House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, whose reputation for partisanship and combative personality have made him an easy mark for those trying to paint the focus on scandals as merely a Republican tactic, rather than a national imperative to get the truth. Issa’s claim that White House spokesman Jay Carney was a “paid liar” added to this impression even if it is hard to argue with the truth of the accusation. That incident led to a vicious and personal counter-attack on Issa by Obama strategist David Plouffe.

But now it appears that while Democrats may have gained some initial traction with their “overreach” talking point, it’s starting to look as if it is those on the left are the ones who are doing the real overreaching in this controversy. The latest and most egregious instance of this liberal overreach comes from MSNBC host Martin Bashir, who argued on the network yesterday that the anger about the IRS’s political targeting as well as its outrageous misuse of public funds is nothing more than a racist attack on President Obama.

Here’s what Bashir said:

MARTIN BASHIR: The IRS is being used in exactly the same way as they tried to used the president’s birth certificate. You see, for Republicans like Darrell Issa, who knows something about arson, the IRS now stands for something inflammatory. Those three letters are now on fire with political corruption and malfeasance, burning hot. Just like that suspicious fire that engulfed Mr. Issa’s warehouse back in 1982. 

And, despite the complete lack of any evidence linking the president to the targeting of tea party groups, Republicans are using it as their latest weapon in the war against the black man in the White House. …

This strategy is nothing new. And it was explained way back in 1981, by Lee Atwater, who was Bush 41’s chief strategist. In a tape recording, Mr. Atwater revealed how Republicans evolved their language to achieve the same purpose. 

He said: ‘You start out in 1954, by saying ‘n*****, n*****, n*****. By 1968, you can’t say n*****, that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced bussing, states rights, and all that stuff and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes. We want to cut this is much more abstract than even the bussing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than n*****, n*****.’

So this afternoon, we welcomed the latest phrase in the lexicon of Republican attacks on this president: the IRS. Three letters that sound so innocent but we know what you mean.

It would be easy to dismiss Bashir as nothing more than a crackpot with a TV show, but this “dog whistle” argument is not an isolated instance. The head of the Louisiana Democratic Party made the same point when she claimed the only reason why so many Americans oppose ObamaCare is the color of the president’s skin. In other words, for the left, conservatives have no other motivation or ideology but hatred of blacks.

This is insulting and stupid. But it is also contradicted by the anger against the IRS that Rep. Elijah Cummings, the black Democrat who is the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, has expressed about the abuses of the IRS.

All Americans, no matter their race, have a vested interest in protecting their constitutional rights against a government that continues to seek more power at the expense of the individual. That’s why the majority of Americans continue to oppose ObamaCare. And it’s also why they think the abuses at the IRS must be thoroughly investigated and all those involved held accountable. Republicans like Issa must be careful to let the story tell itself as the investigation proceeds. But it is neither racist nor unreasonable for them to be asking whether those who did these acts were in any way inspired by the inflammatory rhetoric used by both the president and much of the liberal media.

It is not surprising that many on the left would prefer to engage in ad hominem attacks and reckless use of racism accusations rather than face the facts about a government that can’t be trusted. Screaming the “n” word is an escape from the reality of a second Obama administration mired in scandal. But doing this does neither the country nor African Americans any favors.

By seeking to cast all of the president’s critics as bigots who use the “n” word, leftists like Bashir are acting as racial hucksters, exploiting fear and seeking to arouse hatred against anyone who disagrees with them. That’s what the left has been trying to do to the Tea Party movement since it began, and despite their lack of proof for their charges of racism, they have persisted in these smears.

It’s easier to live in a fantasy world where your critics are cartoon bigots than to defend the administration’s conduct. Instead of falsely crying racism, liberals should be listening to their fellow citizens who oppose Obama’s policies and engaging them in thoughtful debate about constitutional principles and policy. But if they do that, they’d have to acknowledge the legitimacy of their opponents, and that is something they’d rather not do.

The only overreaching going on about the IRS is a liberal campaign to silence administration critics with false charges of racism. As enjoyable as this escape from reality might be for the left, they have to know that the American people aren’t buying it.

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