Views From Kansas: ‘Roseanne’ had to go

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

ABC absolutely did the right thing in canceling Roseanne Barr’s television series after her racist tweet about former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett.

That there will be disagreement about the decision isn’t surprising given the climate of discourse in America today. A racist joke isn’t a joke at all, yet many will attempt to justify it as a poor attempt at humor.

Still, there came a moment when anyone watching reaction to Barr’s tweet might have wondered how ABC would react. Not only because “Roseanne” received huge ratings in its return to the airwaves, but because it was perceived to represent the base of President Donald Trump’s support. Trump called Barr after the March 27 premiere and mentioned the show during an Ohio rally.

Would ABC have the strength to kill a cash cow that espouses Trump’s America?

We’re living in a culture today where words fly mostly without regard for consequence. Blame social media, where 280 characters and a “Tweet” button act as a 24-ounce energy drink of artificial courage.

But also blame Trump and the people who have enabled him.

If supporters had held him to high standards, Trump would’ve disappeared after his July 2015 diatribe about Sen. John McCain’s five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. (“I like people that weren’t captured.”)

But Republican primary voters went for Trump. They liked his attitude and policies, many of which he’s delivered on in his first 16 months. They were willing to give many of his words a pass, or even endorse them as this generation’s “Give ’em hell, Harry.”

So when a Trumpian show has immediate success, then its star goes unhinged on Twitter, ABC’s decision wasn’t as easy as doing the right thing. The network takes a chance at backlash from viewers, but may gain respect from those who won’t tolerate Barr’s demeaning treatment of Jarrett.

A shocker from Barr isn’t new. There was her screaming, off-key, crotch-grabbing national anthem performance. The time she accused her parents of sexually abusing her (she later recanted). Asking to pose as Hitler for a satirical Jewish magazine (and pulling gingerbread cookies out of an oven). Making a similar ape comment on Twitter about former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

After apologizing for the Jarrett tweet, Barr said she was leaving Twitter. She was back in less than 24 hours, tweeting and retweeting more than 100 times. She blamed Ambien, a medication that treats insomnia, to the point that the drug’s maker tweeted that racism is not one of Ambien’s side effects.

Barr’s racist statement can be a lesson for everyone, and not just on the dangers of posting on social media. We should be better at reining in a culture of bias and degradation that has been allowed to fester by Americans’ political polarization. ABC had the courage to stand up to racism, sending one of its stars and top money-making shows away.

Standing up to offensive speech is the only choice.

— Originally published in The Wichita Eagle


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