Joke Ethics, Jay Leno, And The Rats In The Pantyhose

Ugh. Come on.

Fortunately, Jay's successor is ready to go...

Fortunately, Jay’s successor is ready to go…

Jay’s ethics alarm was sure malfunctioning during THAT taping. The Golden Rule is made for situations like this. Surely Jay knew about it? Once?

Louann Giambattista, a former American Airlines flight attendant, had sued the airline in June, claiming that American had discriminated against her as a result of her co-workers’ false allegations that she carried pet rats on board planes in her pantyhose and underwear. I get it: it’s an inherently funny story.  But Jay charged over every line of fairness, respect, compassion and common sense when he showed Giambattista’s photo to his national TV audience, and then, in a repeating segment called  “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda,” challenged three guest comics to make their best jokes about the material. They were rolling, too—some examples..

  • “If I were one of those rats, I would’ve been very upset. I prefer not to sit in cooch.”
  • “I don’t understand this woman at all. If she wanted something that creepy in her underwear, she should have hooked up with me.”
  • Giambattista “coulda used what the rest of us ladies use … a Rabbit” (a popular vibrator).

Classy as ever, I see, Jay!

Now Giambattista is suing, claiming in a lawsuit that she was falsely accused of “engaging in bestiality and sexual misconduct with a rat.” Not only that, the suit alleges that Giambattista and her husband “became pariahs in their own community” as a result of the nationwide humiliation, and that her marriage has been harmed, as her husband “now suffers from severe sexual dysfunction.”

I strongly doubt that she can prove her case. This is a comedy show, and nobody seriously believes that those jokes were statements of fact. Nor will it be easy to prove the her reputation in the community was harmed by the Tonight Show rather than her original lawsuit, which is the Streisand Effect on steroids.

But the segment was despicable, particularly since it showed her photo. She wasn’t a public figure, and those jokes would have been in poor taste and gratuitously mean if the target was a Kardashian. Subjecting a woman, any woman, to that kind of intimate ridicule is ethically indefensible, no matter how many laughs it gets. It was cruel, and it was unnecessary: the same jokes could have been made without any name or photo identifying Giambattista. Would Jay have wanted to see his wife or mother held up to that kind of degradation? Of course not.

It’s called the Golden Rule, Jay.

Look it up.

Jimmy Fallon is looking better every day.


Pointer:  ABA Journal, Salon, ABC,

Graphic: Ratchatter

14 thoughts on “Joke Ethics, Jay Leno, And The Rats In The Pantyhose

  1. I hadn’t heard anything about this, but knowing that she is suing a TV show for making (admittedly mean) jokes makes me wonder if her original suit had any more merit, or if it was another example of trying to get the court to make someone not do a thing you don’t like.

  2. This kind of thing drives me crazy because as far as I can tell, the rat-rumors weren’t based on ANYTHING. They were just lies. And the only one ruined by this is the victim of the lying.

    For that parade of sleazy comedians to even have been remotely funny, they would have had to been joking about the liars whose idea it was to make up such a story, not mock the victim, magnifying the pain inflicted by the original lies. Never mind the Golden Rule, this is “Thou shalt not bear false witness” too.

    But this poor woman is now “rat girl” for years to come, if not for the rest of her life. This goes beyond humiliation. Her husband and kids probably have to fight off feelings of shame just being seen with her. She might be pointed at and talked about everywhere she goes. Any attempt to insist on her innocence just humiliates her more, because just saying “I did not put rats in my underwear” invites mockery and suspicion.

    I doubt she can win the lawsuit, and I don’t think she should have tried a lawsuit…but I understand. Having a court of law reprimand or punish Leno and the bullying co-workers might be the only way this woman can see to be vindicated and regain her dignity as a human being. I don’t agree with it, but I can see why she’d give it a shot.

  3. I am afraid that this affair of rottenness is going to lead to a whole new theme for Halloween – if people displaying rats-in-underpants, or some other disgusting accessories-within-clothing, haven’t already gone trick-or-treating or costume-partying as a result of it.

    Maybe next Halloween, some enterprising candy-seekers will dress as a gang of Children of the Dead, carrying around a twitching corpse-effigy of Jimmy Kimmel on a litter.

  4. I guess she felt that Jay Leno and his show had bigger pockets than the co-worker/American Airlines. It’s had to believe that she’s gonna be able to prove anything in this case but Leno showed very bad taste in this segment.

  5. Pingback: Joke Ethics, Jay Leno, And The Rats In The Pan...

  6. Jay and NBC were aware ( as stated in the claim of workplace discrimination) that she claimed to be innocent of all the allegations and after numerous searches was never found to be in any violation. She stated she was being bullied at work and experiencing stress, embarrassment, anxiety and hopelessness at fighting the big company….so Jay thinks it would be funny to show a close up of her face, provide her name and city, have writers, prop. people, video and photographers build a mock-up of an airplane table and coffee cup and then proceed to mock her ?

    Sure the millions who saw it will forget it soon enough but not the 200 or so people in her circle.This will remain painful for her and her family for the rest of their lives.

  7. I have nothing to offer regarding Jay’s inappropriate comments as everyone else has said it all quite well.

    However, I will take issue with the editors of the original story on ABC news. I reread the story several times and found that its construction would lead people to believe that the flight attendant actually carried a rat onto a plane. I know you have to capture the reader’s attention in the opening paragraph, but this is absolutely bad journalism.

    A less inflammatory opening paragraph that would have captured reader’s attention could have been “Unsubstantiated claims by co-workers against another flight attendant lead to a workplace discrimination suit against American Airlines”. This paragraph actually describes the situation more accurately. The issue of the rat supported only the claim of unnecessary treatment by Customs which led to a hostile workplace suit.

    The opening paragraph may have been factual but was unnecessary and designed to appeal to our base instincts. The second paragraph is actually the basis of the suit. It took the writer until the eighth paragraph to give even a suggestion that the claim that the flight attendant committed the act of smuggling a pet rat aboard was untrue. Finally, it was not until the last 10 words of the story would anyone know that American Airlines did not believe the co-worker’s claims.

    Apparently, the journalist who wrote the story did not see the legal twist in the case such that here was a women filing suit under the ADA not because she has a disability but because she was labeled by co-workers to have a mental defect which led to a hostile work environment. Journalism of this caliber is reminiscent of Charles Foster Kane.

    Journalists have a higher duty to report issues fairly than late night comics. How journalists construct the reports is more far important than just the basic facts.

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