On Full Frontal Wednesday night, Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” It was not the first time Bee has called someone a cunt on national television. Last year, she used the same word to describe Woodrow Wilson during her Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner special and no one cared.
Nevertheless, it became a major issue on Thursday because White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that TBS — which, along with Bee, apologized for the see-you-next-Tuesday line and removed the clip from Full Frontal’s Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter pages — should be fired.
“Her disgusting comments and show are not fit for broadcast, and executives at Time Warner and TBS must demonstrate that such explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned on its network,” Sanders said.
Let’s be clear about what really concerns Sanders, the White House, and President Trump — who, as of Thursday morning, was still demanding an apology from Disney CEO Bob Iger for the mean things that have been said about him by ABC employees. It’s not the use of explicit profanity being directed toward women. (Please refer to the page that begins with “grab ‘em by the pussy” in your Examples of Trump Hypocrisy Handbook.) It’s not the degraded standards for discourse on our airwaves and in our culture. (Wasn’t it President Trump who, last fall, referred to any NFL player who protested racially motivated police violence as a “son of a bitch”?)
No, the White House’s demand that TBS cancel Full Frontal is an effort to create false equivalencies that foster mistrust of a media they characterize as left-leaning lie mongers. It’s divisive, it’s dangerous, and it’s absolutely par for the Trump-administration course.
This particular chapter in the media-bashing saga started on Tuesday morning when Roseanne Barr, in one of those classic cases of Ambien-induced racism that we’re always hearing about, described Valerie Jarrett, a former advisor to President Obama, as the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. Within hours of tweeting that disgusting racist joke, ABC fired Barr and canceled her show, the network’s most widely watched and successful sitcom in years.
Not long after, both President Trump and Sanders accused ABC of a double standard, noting that Iger never apologized to Trump for, among other things, an erroneous story by ABC News reporter Brian Ross about the Russia scandal (in fact, ABC apologized for the mistake, issued a correction, and suspended Ross without pay), and then-ESPN host Jemele Hill’s tweets calling Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.” That whataboutism continued today when Sanders criticized Bee and called for TBS to cancel Full Frontal.
This problem is described quite accurately by the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers, who zeroes in on the false equivalency of suggesting a connection between the Roseanne cancelation and what happened with Jemele Hill: “What’s striking about the Hill tweet’s inclusion on a White House list of grievances against Iger is the implied equivalence between racism and calling out racism. Jarrett said Tuesday that Iger phoned her to apologize on behalf of the company for Barr’s racist tweet. The White House’s position is that Iger should have similarly dialed Trump to apologize for Hill’s accusation that the president is a white supremacist. The suggestion is that calling someone racist is just as offensive as saying something racist — maybe even more so.”
Let’s apply that logic to the Samantha Bee business. Her use of the C-word to describe Ivanka Trump stemmed from her criticism of the First Daughter–slash–senior presidential advisor tweeting a photograph of herself and one of her children in the midst of a news cycle focused on immigrant children being separated from their parents. Maybe Bee shouldn’t have used that specific word. I’ll concede that she could have been less crass, even though she’s used the same language in the past and no one said boo until Barr got fired. Bee’s larger point was to criticize Ivanka Trump’s insensitive and tone-deaf photograph. The point of Barr’s tweet, in as much as it had a point, was that Barr thinks Jarrett is both an Islamist and an ape. Saying that both women deserve to be fired suggests their offenses are identical. They are not.
In a lot of ways, this whole thing strikes me as Smoky Eye II: The Reckoning. Gasps were sounded and pearls were clutched when Michelle Wolf accused Sanders of being a serial fibber at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. “She burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye,” Wolf cracked. “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” The offense? Wolf had supposedly — except, no, she didn’t — made fun of Sanders’s appearance, which was deemed unacceptable by some observers. The fact that Wolf criticized the White House press secretary for regularly lying to the public was not of nearly as much concern as the suggestion that Wolf said something derogatory about her looks. It’s quite similar to how Bee’s underlying message — that the U.S. needs more humane immigration policies — has gotten totally lost in this ridiculous circle of accusations about who gets away with saying the most offensive stuff.
Now, Bee has been forced to go on the defensive, even though her transgression is not nearly as egregious, offensive, or cruel as what Barr did. Even worse, the biggest offender of all still sits in the Oval Office, tweeting and saying whatever he wants. For those who are genuinely concerned about nasty profanity being spouted into the cultural ether, I suggest you pick up the phone and check your caller ID. The worst rhetoric of all? It’s coming from inside the White House.