[Updated with new Clinton response]
First things first. when David Shuster asked, “…doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” he couldn’t have been more wrong. It was inappropriate, demeaning, and unprofessional. In the wake of those remarks, he has apologized on air twice, expressed his regrets personally to the Clintons, and been suspended from broadcasting for an undetermined period of time.
That said, Hillary Clinton’s latest response to NBC News President Steve Capus is rife with hypocrisy and calculated outrage. From the Clinton letter to Mr. Capus:
“Nothing justifies the kind of debasing language that David Shuster used and no temporary suspension or half-hearted apology is sufficient.”
I’m not sure what criteria she used to assess the apology as “half-hearted,” but the ones I heard from NBC, Shuster, and Keith Olbermann all sounded pretty whole-hearted to me. Yet Clinton seems to be leaving open only one option – to fire Shuster. She may have an ulterior motive for this which I will address later. The letter continues…
“I would urge you to look at the pattern of behavior on your network that seems to repeatedly lead to this sort of degrading language […] Surely, you can do your jobs as journalists and commentators and still keep the discourse civil and appropriate.”
What I’d like to know is, how on Earth can Clinton ask that of MSNBC without holding Fox News to the same standard?”
That said, there needs to be some measure of perspective inserted into this affair. The term “pimp,” like many other rhetorical incivilities, has been been recast by contemporary social applications. Nobody thinks that MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” is pejorative in context. Pimping has assumed a colloquial definition of either enhancing or promoting the subject. That’s not to say that the traditional meaning is moot, and that is why Shuster is deserving of criticism.
However, Clinton’s response is wholly out of proportion. To threaten to cancel debates on MSNBC because of these comments raises an obvious question: Why did she happily agree to debates with Fox, despite the fact that they have said far worse for much longer about her and pretty much everyone in her party? If the Clinton campaign was truly concerned about not patronizing networks that disparage them, she would have canceled both network’s debates. Her selective outrage reeks of political chicanery, rather than maternal protectiveness.
For me this is not about the Shuster comment which is universally reviled. It is about the Clinton response that is inconsistent and not applied equally to her detractors at Fox whom she has embraced. And while Shuster deserves and has accepted the consequences of his verbal blunder, Fox stubbornly stands by every slur they’ve ever uttered.
While inartfully executed, Shuster’s point was not far off the mark. Politicians have been been likened to whores on more than a few occasions in the last thousand or so years. They engage in campaigns that are drenched with money from those seeking favors. They sell their votes and influence for cash, endorsements, appointments, and attention. And they are certainly not above exploiting their families.
Finally, no one should ignore the supreme irony of Shuster being suspended for offensive remarks he made while filling in for Tucker Carlson. Carlson is well known for making offensive remarks repeatedly, never apologizing, and yet he has never faced suspension. This is a particularly egregious oversight in light of the fact that his show has no business being on the air in the first place. It is a perennial ratings loser to his competition and is the worst performing program on the network. Yet his offenses have yielded nothing, but Shuster, a reporter with a long history of journalistic integrity and achievement is suspended.
This isn’t the first time Shuster was compelled to issue an apology. On the prior occasion, however, his bosses at MSNBC forced him to apologize for a mistake that, as it turned out, he didn’t make. It also isn’t the first time Shuster has butted heads with the Clintons. At KATV in Little Rock, Arkansas, and later at Fox News, he was assigned to the Whitewater investigation (h/t Chip Ramsey). Could this have something to do with the ferocity of Clinton’s attack on Shuster? It should be noted that when he left Fox for MSNBC he was unusually candid about his experience working for Murdoch and company:
“…there wasn’t a tradition or track record of honoring journalistic integrity. I found some reporters at Fox would cut corners or steal information from other sources or in some cases, just make things up. Management would either look the other way or just wouldn’t care to take a closer look.”
That rare moment of refreshing honesty will now be overshadowed by the drama that Clinton is stirring up, perhaps motivated by revenge. The right-wing media is already pouncing on this to hammer MSNBC as disreputable. But they should take note that at least this network has taken the responsible steps to repair any damage from the affront. When was the last time that Fox behaved responsibly? Yet Fox is being rewarded by Clinton for their irresponsibility. And speaking of double standards, Will Bunch at Attytood has posted what may be the definitive take on it:
…was it the worst thing ever said about Chelsea Clinton in the public arena? Not even close.
“Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.”
— Sen. John McCain, speaking to a Republican dinner, June 1998.
Maybe MSNBC should ban John McCain from appearing on the network for a while. And given Hillary Clinton’s strong stance on the matter, I assume she won’t be debating McCain this fall, either?
So one stupid slip by an otherwise outstanding reporter draws threats of a boycott, but years of premeditated character assassination earns a personal appearance on a televised debate that will bring viewers, revenue, and prestige to the offending network. Fox has already started touting the victory of snagging Clinton for the debate, even though there may not be one as Sen. Obama has yet to accept. That didn’t stop Fox’s Chris Wallace from telling A Daily Show’s Jon Stewart that “The dam is broken now that John Edwards is no longer in the contest.” The dam has been broken at Fox for a long time, and here’s a sampling of what has been pouring through:
|Note to Hillary: Cancel both debates or SHUT UP!