Sometimes it may seem that you can say just about anything on TV these days. MSNBC anchor–now former MSNBC anchor–Martin Bashir has proved otherwise.
The British journalist handed in his resignation to his bosses after weeks of controversy over a commentary in which, angry over Sarah Palin’s comparison of the debt to slavery, he suggested the former Alaska governor deserved to have someone defecate in her mouth.
More specifically, Bashir’s rant provided a dramatic example of the cruelty of actual slavery: a slaver named Thomas Thistlewood who would punish slaves by having others urinate or “s-h-i-t” (Bashir’s phrasing) in their mouths. “If anyone truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood,” Bashir concluded, “[Palin] would be the outstanding candidate.”
Bashir soon apologized on air, and Sarah Palin accepted–well, accepted while reiterating that his comments were “vile” and “evil.” But the cries for disciplining Bashir continued. The network just lost new host Alec Baldwin, whose late-night show was ended after just a couple weeks when he was recorded making a homophobic comment at a paparazzo. Now MSNBC–whose bread is liberally buttered by the progressive audience it cultivates–would have to consider punishing a firebrand host many of its viewers loved for a slight to a politician said viewers can’t stand.
Bashir’s resignation spared MSNBC a tough decision, but it would have been better if the network had owned up and taken action itself. I’ve said before that I don’t believe in a one-strike-you’re-out policy for every boneheaded tweet and outburst. We live in a time when it’s easy for people to screw up in public. People misspeak, they get angry, they get stupid–and when it comes to politics and the media, plenty of people are ready to be outraged for strategic reasons.
But if there is an example of a single statement that’s cause for an anchor to be punished, suggesting that a woman deserves to have someone defecate in her mouth–not offhandedly but in a prepared, produced segment on a network’s air–is pretty much it.
Were Palin’s remarks insensitive and historically ignorant? Absolutely. Have other broadcasters said offensive things and lived to blab another day? Yep. Was the misinformation spread by 60 Minutes’ discredited Benghazi report more damaging to public knowledge? Sure. But the beloved “Somebody Else Did Something Bad Once Too” argument has to end somewhere. If anything can be excused by searching the archives for a counterexample, anything is permissible.