Welcome to the never-ending Roseanne news cycle, in which conservative voices are now trying to conflate racist rhetoric and naughty words. Since we’re all probably going to die inside of this backlash echo chamber, we might as well take a deeper look at this false equivalency to end all false equivalencies.
It all started, as you well know, when ABC canceled the controversial Roseanne reboot in response to its star’s latest racist outburst. In doing so, the network appeared to finally acknowledge the potential harm of giving a bigoted conspiracy theorist a major platform, with ABC entertainment President Channing Dungey writing, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
Barr’s post about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett—“muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj”—was so undeniably racist that it was condemned both by her co-stars and many conservatives. Case closed, right?
Not so fast. Interpreting Roseanne Barr’s more-than-justified axing as an open season on any and all TV ladies who offend their delicate sensibilities, right-wing pundits like Megyn Kelly, Erick Erickson, and Jeanine Pirro decided to drag Samantha Bee into the brewing controversy. Bee’s perceived crime was using the C-word to criticize Ivanka Trump during her Wednesday night monologue, addressing the first daughter “one mother to another”: “do something about your dad’s immigration practices you feckless cunt!”
Commentators were quick to draw a non-existent connection between Bee’s cussing and Barr’s fireable offense. Matt Walsh tweeted, “I have no problem calling for the firing of Samantha Bee. Her show is atrocious and her rhetoric is vile and revolting. TBS should get rid of her and we should demand they do so. I supported ABC firing Roseanne and I will call for TBS to be held to same standard.” Even Herman Cain weighed in, “Hey @TBSNetwork, shall I assume the Samantha Bee cancellation news will come later today? No? You don't care that this poor man’s Jon Stewart is completely horrible? Ok, then…”
Mark Levin was so outraged by Bee’s language that he called her a “vile ignorant clown.” Megyn Kelly critiqued enthusiastic coverage of Bee’s monologue, tweeting, “This is disgusting. How is this acceptable? And how are we expected to take any of these publications seriously if they gleefully repost something like this at the same time they (rightfully) condemn @therealroseanne? You know the saying Love is Love? Well Hate is Hate.”
This double-standard argument—that Bee should be treated by her network and condemned by the media just like Roseanne was, and that any other response is sheer liberal hypocrisy—is so obviously flimsy that it almost doesn’t deserve to be broken down. Samantha Bee used shocking language to heighten a joke. You might not find the joke funny, or might bristle at the use of the C-word, but that doesn’t make Bee’s specific sense of humor comparable to Barr’s sincere regurgitation of racist bile.
Barr, with her long history of prejudiced and misinformed statements, has given us no reason to believe that she doesn’t genuinely believe the racist crap she espouses. All jokes aside, Samantha Bee might really think that Ivanka Trump is a cunt, but how dare anyone equate that personalized insult to rhetoric that attempts to reduce and dehumanize an entire race. On one hand, we have reinforcing white supremacy—on the other, a political comic punching up to attack a powerful lady, using vulgar language to accentuate a larger critique. It would be one thing if Bee was inexplicably attacking a woman who happens to be related to the president, but Ivanka Trump has taken on an active, official role in Washington. So it’s not a stretch to posit that she’s actively choosing not to intervene on behalf of those who have been harmed by her father’s administration—and not uncalled for to criticize that apathy in the strongest possible terms.
As writer Rebecca Traister pointed out in a Twitter thread on Thursday, “When Bee goes after Ivanka for supporting an administration that’s doing grievous harm to the bodies, families, lives of human beings, she’s acting on behalf of less powerful people (immigrants ripped from their children) against the grotesquely powerful & abusive…It is fundamentally different from Roseanne comparing Jarrett to an ape, a racist locution w deep racist roots, bc unlike Bee’s deployment of cunt AGAINST a misogynistic, racist administration, Roseanne’s racism is deployed IN SUPPORT OF a racist, misogynistic administration.”
No one’s trying to argue with the fact that cunt probably crossed the line for some viewers—it’s just not even close to the same thing as comparing a black woman to an ape. But it’s not surprising that so many conservatives fail to understand the distinction between language that reinforces systemic oppression and a joke that might be in poor taste, since Roseanne herself has feigned ignorance at the wider repercussions of her racist remark.
As Ira Madison wrote in response to Roseanne tweetgate, “Hours later, Barr issued an apology on Twitter and promised she was leaving the platform. She also tweeted a follow-up, apologizing for everything but the racism dripping from her earlier statement. She did not acknowledge how comparisons to apes have always been loaded racial slurs in America for black people. She merely expressed regret for joking about Jarrett’s ‘looks,’ as if she were Michelle Wolf targeted by conservatives after the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
Erasing the racism from these remarks, or trying to pretend that it’s basically the same as the C-word, is a vile maneuver. It’s also hypocritical in its own right, coming from Trump supporters who continue to endorse a man who bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” (a crime and a curse word).
This story proceeded exactly as expected, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders promptly taking up the viral calls for TBS to castigate the Full Frontal host. “The language used by Samantha Bee last night is vile and vicious. The collective silence by the left and its media allies is appalling,” Sanders told TheWrap. “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.”
Predictably, Bee ended up apologizing for her monologue. “I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using an expletive on my show to describe her last night,” Bee said. “It was inappropriate and inexcusable. I crossed a line, and I deeply regret it.”
TBS then issued their own statement: “Samantha Bee has taken the right action in apologizing for the vile and inappropriate language she used about Ivanka Trump last night. Those words should not have been aired. It was our mistake too, and we regret it.”
Of course, these apologies probably won’t appease the folks who want to see Bee and Barr face the same consequences. Conservatives are free to continue clutching their pearls, but comparing Bee’s vulgarity to Barr’s racism is offensive, ignorant, and utterly transparent.