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From Roseanne To The Eagles, What About Whataboutism?

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From Roseanne To The Eagles, What About Whataboutism?


Reprinted with permission from Creators.


Whataboutism is a “logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument.” Thank you, Wikipedia.

After praising ABC for dumping Roseanne Barr over a racist tweet, I was asked many times, What about Samantha Bee? The comedian had hurled the disgusting C-word at Ivanka Trump.

Comparing these different cases may have been logically fraught, but the readers had a point. My short answer was: Yes, Bee should have been canned over that. It matters not that I generally share her politics. Calling someone by the C-word should have been a firing offense.

But let’s move to a broader consideration of acceptable commentary — or what I consider such. Invective or railing is OK. Mockery is fine and especially powerful. (Some Donald Trump fans would rather I scream in outrage than make fun of him.)

Racism is not acceptable, and it is into that abyss that Roseanne leaped. Her calling Obama aide Valerie Jarrett a cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes” was grotesquely racist and merited swift removal. Roseanne could have condemned Jarrett as corrupt or stupid. That would have qualified as opinion — inflammatory and unfair, perhaps, but within the pale.

Now, what about Bill Maher’s demand that Trump prove that he’s not the “spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan”? Not the wittiest of remarks, but an entirely different case. Like Barr, he jokes about simian ancestry. Unlike Barr, he does it not in a racist context but in reference to Trump’s behavior and fake tan.

Because of our painful history, racism remains a more barbaric affront than misogyny. But as with race, gender is something one is born with. The C-word singles out women. There are lots of obscenities related to male organs, but none matches the C-word as a tool of humiliation. That Bee is female does not excuse it. By the way, it surprises me that Maher didn’t get the ax for throwing the C-word at Sarah Palin some years ago.

The business of Trump’s disinviting the Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl champions, from the White House is a very different story, but it does have a what-about angle. One might ask why Trump took such issue with football players kneeling during the national anthem but praised Roseanne despite her having performed a comedic version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that included scratching her crotch. The football players were quietly protesting racial injustice. Roseanne was seeking raw attention.

Complicating Trump’s denunciation of the Eagles over the kneeling issue is this: No player on the Eagles knelt or sat during the 2017 regular season. Members of other teams did. Not the Eagles. That some Eagles defended other players for kneeling was Trump’s excuse for taking back the invitation.

Of course, Trump could have praised the Eagles for not kneeling, but magnanimity is not his habit. The most plausible reason for the move was that a number of players had said they would not show. There are few things Trump likes less than empty seats in his presence. But there was also a need for distraction with the release of his lawyers’ memo confirming that Trump dictated the lie Donald Jr. used about meeting with a Vladimir Putin-allied Russian during the campaign.

It happens that whataboutism was a specialty of Soviet propaganda. Talk about the Russians’ murder of dissidents and Russians would change the subject to the history of black lynching in America. With Russians and Trump seemingly on the same team, one could envision Russian trolls providing new what-about arguments in the president’s service.

For all we know, they may already be at it.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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