By Dominique Paul Noth
The erudite and sarcastic British born commentator Martin Bashir, host of a popular weekday afternoon show on cable network MSNBC, opened his November 18 program with a lengthy and clearly seriously contrite apology to Sarah Palin for remarks he made in his end of week telecast November 15.
|Martin Bashir on MSNBC|
Which immediately raised a question for viewers – can cable news really insult Sarah Palin?
What could he possibly have said about a fading political figure who gets too much air-time anyway for her mangled rhetorical meanderings and has a penchant for thrusting herself into the media spotlight? She simply reminds us all she is too easy a target and cable news thrives on easy targets.
So what happened? Did he insult her looks? Her children? Her gender? Did he make some jest about transvaginal probes in her life or some similar Bill Maher moment, since that cable humorist loves to harp on her mannerisms and personal failings? All that would obviously be out of bounds for a TV news show and warrant such an opening minute groveling, as long as “60 Minutes” devoted to apologizing for welcoming a liar into its Benghazi report.
So naturally thousands of curious viewers who missed the first show rushed into the video archives to find what horrors Bashir had hit Palin with. The results speak volumes about the speed to apology of MSNBC journalism standards more than about Palin herself.
Because Bashir was clearly outraged – and deserved to be -- that Palin in a speech said the Affordable Care Act was a new form of slavery, slurring her offhand denial that anyone who took her comments as supporting racism would clearly be out of bounds.
What infuriated Bashir was simply comparing an effort to help people with health coverage to shackling people into servitude, that being beholden to any effort at government service or debt was equivalent to slavery. The choice of comparison itself suggested Palin didn’t know anything about the true horrors of losing your freedom to the power trips of another – and how slave owners ultimately behave. Of course, the plight of blacks remains the most prominent example in US memory but slavery continues to flourish around the world.
So Bashir called her a “dunce” and a “world class idiot” – and I doubt that was what he was apologizing for. Truth is always a fair defense, and he was simply describing, after all.
But then Bashir went back to 18th century documents describing in scatological details the sort of humiliations slaves were subjected to by their owners – routine whippings, skin rubbings and being forced to eat excrement. He ended his commentary with the statement he clearly was apologizing for and that must have driven producers in the control room nuts when he inserted it on his own – that if anyone in modern times deserved to be subjected to this sort of defecation treatment, it was the governor who quit Alaska in midterm. That was out of bounds.
So he was right to apologize for being so carried away on his rhetorical flight. It was a moment that made the public long for similar brakes in all public discourse. Bashir in his inflammatory zeal has now allowed Palin supporters to pretend she ever made any sense in the first place. For that, he owes all viewers an apology.