Having briefly indulged in baseball’s comforting warmth, it’s time to return to reality. Although the Roseanne Barr / Samantha Bee ruckus is in the process of fading into our daily haze, and there are obviously many large issues clamoring for comment, the uproar around these women has caused me to again focus on our general need to improve our continually coarsening public dialog.
First, Ms. Barr. I don’t think I ever saw a full episode of her show’s first run and caught but a few scenes of the recent reprise. Living in my own bubble, I wasn’t aware that she had exhibited a decades-long pattern of racial behaviors until hearing of her tweet about Valerie Jarrett and seeing the ensuing reporting. This is the straightforward one: she had multiple chances. She should have been fired, and was.
The approach to Ms. Bee’s comments about Ivanka Trump is for me more complex. Ms. Trump, as a formal member of the Trump Administration, is a government official and has to abide a certain level of scrutiny. A number of her activities while in office warrant severe criticism (the Chinese trademarks she received in recent days being a ready objective example). That said, Ms. Bee went too far. I confess that if Ms. Bee had called our daughter what she called Ms. Trump, I wouldn’t want her to get a second chance; I’d want her fired. I can’t fault the President for feeling and stating the same.
I find it no excuse for Ms. Bee that — as her defenders have been quick to point out — the President himself revels in escalating the level of crass exchange now present in our public discourse. I don’t care. I would assert that if Ms. Bee intends to contribute to the public commentary, she has (and had) a responsibility – like all from the President of the United States to a lonely blogger — to do so civilly. At the same time, unless she has shown a pattern of untoward behavior (if so, I haven’t seen a report of it), termination seems too harsh.
So how might TBS proceed? Although it looks like the network intends to let Ms. Bee get away with simply a more robust apology to Ms. Trump, I would offer this: if the terms of her contract give TBS the right to cancel her show without further payment to her if it so wished, TBS might consider (1) making it clear to Ms. Bee that another like incident will result in her immediate termination and (2) requiring Ms. Bee to forfeit a month’s salary (which, given internet accounts placing her TBS salary at around $1million, amounts to about $80,000), to be paid to a charity designated by Ms. Trump [a real charity – not a Trump charity ;)]. Such an approach would not end her career, but would send a message that untoward conduct comes with consequences beyond the tired rite of insincere apologies.
Codes of behavior matter. As our longstanding norms come under ever greater stress, we need to maintain our respect for them in small matters if we hope to have them withstand the assaults in large areas that are likely ahead of us.