On Tuesday morning, Roseanne Barr logged onto Twitter and fucked herself up. She compared Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is black, to a combination of the "muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes," suggested Chelsea Clinton's middle name was "Soros," then repeated a false smear about right-wing boogieman George Soros being a Nazi collaborator when he was 14. Before noon she was already apologizing to "all Americans" for her bizarre and racist tweets.
It was too little, too late—by early afternoon, ABC dropped the hammer, with network president Channing Dungey (who is black) issuing a statement that read, "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show." Even given the noxious content of Barr's tweets, this was somewhat surprising, especially given the Roseanne reboot's high ratings (and Barr's past conspiracy-mongering on Twitter). But there are apparently still some lines that public figures can't cross in America if they want to stay in the mainstream. Suggesting a successful black woman is the (radical Muslim) offspring of fictional primates is one of them.
Notably, even right-wing media outlets you might expect to make excuses for Roseanne decided to call her tweets "racist," a word news organizations often dance around because of how loaded it is. ("Racially charged" and "controversial" are popular workarounds.) Fox News, Breitbart, the Daily Mail, and the Wall Street Journal all threw around the R-word prominently in their initial coverage. That might sound like a low bar, but in a world where there was quite a bit of debate over whether Donald Trump referring to undocumented gang members as "animals" was actually bigoted (it was), the fact that news reporters and editors have staked out this position is notable. Even Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and frequent Trump confidant, was apparently not on team Roseanne:
Ben Shapiro, one of the most influential conservative pundits, thinks ABC was in the right here:
That's not to say a backlash to ABC's decision isn't in the offing. Because Barr herself is one of Trump's few outspoken celebrity boosters, and because her eponymous character on her show is also a Trump supporter, the sitcom had attracted some high-profile conservative fans. To the pro-Trump right, the cancellation could be portrayed as an attack on their values. Figures like OAN's Jack Posobiec and TPUSA's Charlie Kirk compared Barr to Joy-Ann Reid, the progressive MSNBC host who was recently found to have published homophobic blog posts a decade ago.
More broadly, the cancellation seemed likely to feed into the narrative that conservatives are disrespected and discriminated against in Hollywood. There was even at least a bit of breathless speculation that it could be a campaign issue in the upcoming midterms:
As it happens, Trump is due to speak at a rally for a Republican Senate candidate in Tennessee on Tuesday, and if he weighs in it could make this a political hot potato a la the kneeling NFL players. After all, Trump has never shied away from fighting a battle in the culture wars, used to star on TV himself, and has even praised Roseanne's high ratings. As president, he's made some prejudiced comments and hired officials who were later found to have said some shockingly racist things. Trump's election itself shows that large numbers of Americans are willing to overlook, and even rally around, a public figure's most obviously bigoted statements.
So maybe all the cancellation of Roseanne shows is that there's a gulf between Americans who are fine with a president who refused to condemn violent white supremacists and network executives who want to distance themselves from a toxic star. It's not as if ABC's decision demonstrates a sea change in America, or even a new standard for TV networks—at best, it demonstrates that ABC either has a zero-tolerance policy for racism or was worried about the wave of negative publicity (and potential advertiser boycotts) about to hit it.
Still, in this space between the cancellation and Trump's seemingly inevitable comments about it, there is something worth celebrating: If you spend your time being an awful piece of racist shit online, you may get your TV show taken away. There is still a line, and Barr crossed it.
This post has been updated to include Ben Shapiro's tweet.
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