For progressives these days who are angry that offensive views have become more widely tolerated in the Trump era, one big move by a business brought a sigh of relief—a sense that America was still capable of doing the right thing. In early June, Roseanne Barr made a blatantly racist public statement about a Barack Obama staffer, and ABC responded by swiftly cancelling her show, sending the clear message that her bigotry was not acceptable. All of this is well and good, but it dodges a key question: why was Roseanne even allowed on ABC’s airwaves originally?
A lot of prominent critics have asked this question. Comedian Michelle Wolf, for example, used her new Netflix show to slam ABC for how they’ve handled Roseanne. As The Hill reported, Wolf noted that Barr has a history of being irrational and bigoted, including promoting conspiracy theories about Obama and others, and questioned why ABC hired her in 2017.
“Everyone’s been saying it’s so brave of ABC to cancel their hit show, but the bold move was actually putting this lady Hitler chef back on the air in the first place,” Wolf said. “So kudos to ABC. It takes a lot of courage to fire someone after they’ve been openly racist for the thousandth time.”
The criticism coming from Wolf and others leads us to a key question: is ABC actually committed to doing the right thing, or are they simply savvy about knowing when they’re forced to succumb to public outrage? Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment, came out and declared on the day of Roseanne’s remarks that they were “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values”—but how was that anything new? Was it consistent with ABC’s values when Roseanne promoted the absurd “Pizzagate” story in 2016?
Perhaps the problem is that our media and culture have an unhealthy obsession with balance. One has to listen to both sides, all the time, on everything—even when one of those two sides is nothing more than ignorance and hate. In these extreme times, it might be time to concede that attitude no longer has merit. With the rise of Trump, Roseanne and their kind has dramatically moved the goalposts on what’s acceptable in our public discourse. It’s time to move them back.
Photo: “Roseanne” show stars Whitney Cummings, Michael Fishman, John Goodman, Jayden Rey, Roseanne Barr, Sara Gilbert, Sarah Chalke, and Emma Kenney at the “Roseanne” Event at Disney Studios on March 23, 2018. Credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com