Megyn Kelly, Roseanne, and the Media's Double Standard
During a recent roundtable discussion on her eponymous television show about offensive Halloween costumes, Megyn Kelly seemingly defended the use of blackface. Citing that it was a wholly permissible thing to do when she was growing up, Kelly claimed that white people should be able to paint their faces black on Halloween, so long as they were doing so for the purpose of depicting a character. As the episode aired, Twitter erupted in attacks against Kelly, ultimately prompting her to issue an apology and forcing NBC Universal to fire her. While this may seem like an isolated incident, similar instances of one’s firing over offensive or racist statements have increasingly come into the public sphere. Most notably, Roseanne Barr was fired from ABC and her show canceled after tweeting that Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama, was the product of the Muslim brotherhood and Planet of the Apes having a baby. It is clear that these instances are discriminatory and uncalled for; they catalyze critical dialogue about bias and educate Americans in sensitive areas of discussion with which they are perhaps unfamiliar. However, such derogatory and hateful speech comes from many television personalities across the political spectrum, and while those politically conservative like Barr have had their careers ruined by these remarks, many on the left have not seen comparable consequences.
Samantha Bee, the comedian and host of TBS’ “Full Frontal,” has involved herself in several controversies regarding her unapologetic criticism of the Trump administration. Upset with a tweet Ivanka Trump posted of her and her son in May 2018, Bee called her a “feckless c**t” for supposedly being complacent in her father’s contentious immigration policy. On a separate occasion, Bee criticized many of the white men at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for their “Nazi hair.” Later, one attendee shared that the haircut was a result of his recent brain cancer diagnosis. Apart from public apologies released by Bee and TBS for her comments, she has not seen further reprimanding as she continues to host “Full Frontal.” A similar course of events transpired for MSNBC host Joy Reid, who remained backed by the network despite controversial blog posts of hers resurfacing. Among other things, Reid suggested that the 9/11 terror attacks were a government conspiracy. Furthermore, Reid edited late Sen. John McCain’s face onto the body of the Virginia Tech shooter and admitted she was “probably” homophobic for thinking two men kissing was uncomfortable. Given the obvious display of unprofessionalism and prejudice by both show hosts, it seems unfair that their comments were swept under the rug while individuals like Barr and Kelly have seen their livelihoods destroyed for their statements. What this shows is a double standard in American news reporting-- while purported to engage activism and bring people together, it more realistically divides the nation further.
Whether it be in entertainment, politics, or business, the internet and social media have become essential tools for one’s public legitimacy, credibility, and success. As the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers are less privy to political information relayed in online and visual media, it provides justification to produce content that more closely aligns with the political affiliations of modern audiences. A report compiled by the Pew Research Center of American media concluded that of the top fifteen news sources, thirteen of them produce left-leaning content for liberal viewers and readers; only two entertained right-leaning audiences, of which only Fox News was considered a source that people could easily access. Pew and The American Journalist also conducted separate studies on U.S. journalism, determining that anywhere between twenty-eight and thirty-four percent of American journalists identified as a Democrat, compared to only seven percent identifying as Republican.
Such research and controversies illustrate our society’s gradual decline in our ability to discuss and consider the social differences among us. Homophobic, racist, and unnecessarily personal, insensitive remarks should not nonchalantly get tossed around without any ramifications, but we must also acknowledge that these comments are rooted in a general naivete and lack of education on sensitive topics. In an effort to become socially aware individuals who more fully understand their place in the world in relation to others, we should strive to engage in meaningful dialogue with whom we disagree. While such conversations are surely difficult to have given how deeply personal our identities are, automatically demonizing people on social media and calling for people’s firing does little to educate society about social issues and on how to handle different voiced opinions. News outlets might benefit from following the demands of readers and audiences in deciding what opinions to provide a platform for, but I believe we would all get more out of an objective, nonpartisan approach to reporting the news. This would help reinforce that there exists a diverse spectrum of thought on different issues, while also catalyzing a more open and less politically polarized dialogue about cultures and ideas we are unfamiliar with. We expect those presenting our news to be professional and cognizant of complex topics, but we also expect our news to be presented honestly and without subjective partisan influence. This cannot happen when we actively look to stifle expression.
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