Ethics Dunce: Jimmy Fallon and The Roots

Why is this Be Unfair To Michele Bachmann Month? Because everybody knows when you don't agree with someone, its OK to be unfair to them..

Late night NBC talk show host Jimmy Fallon’s band, The Roots, has developed a habit of choosing “walk-on music” for Fallon’s guests that contain editorial comment on the guests themselves. The practice is not original, but the degree to which The Roots choose titles that are direct insults is, and it’s an unethical practice. Guests are guests, and playing the music of a song with lyrics that intentionally insult a guest is still atrocious manners, not made any less rude because only those who know the song get the message.

When Rep. Michele Bachmann came on Fallon’s show this week, the band played Fishbone’s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” Foul. In ethical terms, this is the equivalent of the band standing up and shouting insults at Bachmann on camera, except that it’s more cowardly. Bachmann didn’t know that she was being insulted, and it was a sure bet that she wouldn’t: I doubt anyone expects Fishbone to be on Michele’s playlist.

Kimmel’s band was proud of itself; Roots drummer Questlove alerted his followers  on Twitter before the ambush, tweeting:

   “Aight late night walkon song devotees: you love it when we snark: this next one takes the cake. ask around cause i aint tweeting title.”

Fallon owes Bachmann an apology, and The Roots need to have basic professionalism explained to them.

UPDATE: Fallon and Questlove both apologized over Twitter.

10 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Jimmy Fallon and The Roots

  1. Meh. Bachmann is a public figure, running for high office, and Fallon’s show is entertainment, not news. She’s fair game, and the Roots were well within the bounds of ethical editorializing. Surely, you wouldn’t suggest censoring free expression?

    • Wrong. They have a right, but it still isn’t right. She’s a guest, and there is a threshold level of decent treatment any guest is entitled to. An audience member who shouted insults would also be rude. Worse yet is a coded insult. You (and others) have a strange idea of what is fair treatment to public figures, They still are entitled to fairness and decency.

        • Nonsense. It’s a different kind of guest, but it is still a guest by all traditional meanings. It’s Fallon’s territory, or “home”, his show, and he has control. The guest was invited. Host-guest ethics clearly apply; not only that, they apply in the traditions of the industry. One does not go on another individual’s show as a guests and insult the host or trash the environment; you do not invite someone on a show to ridicule or insult them without due notice. Fallon decides who comes on the show, guests are paid a pittance, if at all.The guest provides an attraction for the host in exchange for exposure, but to meet the host’s end of the bargain, it has to be positive exposure…at least, the host has an obligation to make a good faith effort to make it positive, just like the guest has an obligation not to be drunk, obnoxious or boring. Both by implied contract and common etiquette, Fallon failed miserably.

    • It’s still easy to roundly and totally mock her into dust while being civil. However, I don’t expect such a level of finesse from Fallon. Stephen Colbert, maybe (if her advisors went completely insane and allowed her anywhere near his set), but Fallon seems to be more aimed towards big, brash, terribly unsubtle “jokes”.

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