Why Fox News’ Robin Williams Gaffe Matters

Oh, Fox, Fox, Fox….

As the tragic news of Robin William’s suicide spread across the media, Fox News made an utter ass of itself by using a fake “Mrs. Doubtfire” video featuring someone dressed like the Williams character to back Greta Van Susteren’s phone interview of Larry King about the comic’s career. The footage was labeled as coming from 20th Century Fox, and then the network moved on to clips from “Mork and Mindy.”

It was a just a mistake, but I think it was a mistake of significance:

1. The “Mrs. Doubtfire” spoof  video was found by some lazy and inept lower level Fox staff member, but obviously passed review by a director, an editor, and  others. Nobody who had any idea who Robin Williams was or the slightest familiarity with his work could have been involved in this. It tells us that Fox News is sloppy and unprofessional, and should cause legitimate concerns about their news gathering process, fact-checking, and trustworthiness. (I know, I know…)

2. The fiasco showed the disrespect, or at least lack of respect, the right had for Williams. I find it hard to believe that Fox would be so careless with the death of a conservative comic, if there were one still alive…OK, Dennis Miller, then. Rush Limbaugh stoked my suspicions by making astonishingly fatuous comments about Williams on his show today, tying his suicide to the left’s “worldview” of “pessimism and darkness.” Really, Rush…pay attention. Everything isn’t about politics. The greatest comedians are often depressive—“miserable bastards,” as Sid Caesar described them (and himself), and their demons have nothing to do with ideology.

3. The error exposed a true Achilles heel of conservatives…indeed, it is more like an Achilles thigh. Compared to the more liberal side of U.S. society, the right is stunningly disinterested of current popular culture, its form, content and message, and has disdain for its power. This, to be blunt, makes many influential and visible conservatives stupid, and makes them sound stupid as well. It estranges them from the young and causes the public to conflate conservative principles with a longing for the past. (For their part, liberals are made stupid by their frequent disinterest in and ignorance of history.) Conservatives are under-represented in all segments of the arts, particularly the performing arts; as a result, the arts tend to reflect the liberal views of their creators and supporters. This leads current day conservatives to prefer the messages of works that are often way past their pull-date, at least politically.  When pundits and Democrats dismiss Republicans as old, white and out-of-touch with the world as it is, this is one of the factors that both fuels that opinion and supports it.

Fox News should apologize for insulting the memory and legacy of a performing genius by its carelessness, even though an absurd proportion of its audience probably regard him as just another drug-addled, profane liberal mouthpiece finally brought down by his own vices. But that only would address the immediate impact of its gaffe. The reasons for it, I think, will be much more difficult for the network to fix.

It had better try, however.


Source: Mediaite 1, 2

26 thoughts on “Why Fox News’ Robin Williams Gaffe Matters

  1. Spot on. The Republicans just can’t win the culture war. The young and hip will always be liberal. I was. Well…I was never hip, but I was young and I thought the old fogies were too stupid to live. Funny how living in reality produces conservatism. I guess that’s why as liberalism grows fewer and fewer live in reality by choice or by chance.

  2. Well, whatever generation is out there viewing all the Williams videos today,
    they are so clueless they cannot even identify the band Aerosmith playing on a clip.

  3. Can we have a vote of ‘no confidence’ for all the major journalism sources and start over? None of them can even manage a partial neutrality, and that is a signature problem. Actually Larry King’s comments sounded much more professional. Why was he cut off in the clip?

    New ideas and improving the status quo usually involve the young or young at heart despite what politicians make into talking points. And really, the ideas that were once edgy and radical, like freeing the slaves become the new status quo. And as soon as any group gets control, they simply cannot resist giving the new ideas the same kind of dreck they were given when they were edgy and idealistic.

    And just not knowing Aerosmith, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy What Dreams May Come.

  4. That was indeed a stupid, inexcusable mistake, showing that Mrs. Doubtfire bit. That has probably done more damage to what trust I have of Fox News (which is to say, not much) than any other mistake by them I can recall. Maybe FNC was trying to cleanse itself of viewers who knew a thing or two about Williams by inducing them to follow with their own suicides. I might have to force myself to watch CNN instead for, say, two minutes sometime this month. Is there an official Putin Channel or Hamas Channel yet?

  5. In my view the fake video pales in comparison to Sheppard Smith’s “off the cuff” comment in which he called Wiliam’s act cowardly. Sheppard Smith has gone off script too many times for me. Assuming that the clip was provided by the owner of the intellectual property (20th Century Fox) then it stands to reason that a full vetting of the authenticity of the 20 seconds of fake Doubtfire footage within the overall montage is not necessarily warranted.

    I agree in principle with point 3 but I would like to state that it is the “young and hip” that take offense when older people begin trying to be “young and hip”. Obviously that term young and hip dates me. Pushing boundaries is what made Marlon Brando and James Dean the youthful heroes in the fifties, Lennon and McCartney the cultural icon of the 60’s, George Carlin in the 70’s and on and on. When “adults” or older generation begins to embrace the current pop culture it is no longer fashionable among the young trying to push against established norms. I don’t know whether conservatives are under represented in the arts but I do know that they fund them vigorously; because they understand their value to society. Granted, you won’t find many willing to underwrite the depiction of Jesus on a cross drenched in urine but many less “in your face” sentiments are often endowed by conservatives.

    Ironically, those of us who were weaned on the musical sentiments of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix when they were new have no problem sharing that pop culture with later generations. We enjoyed it and want to share it because it reflects much of who we are.

    The seven words you cannot say on TV have been pared down to only one or two. Southpark broke down the barrier for the word shit on TV. Carlin’s schtick on the seven words was funny but that did not mean I wanted to be bombarded with any of those words over and over. It was just edgy. He just pointed them out to us all and we thought it was cool. He was just as funny about his “stuff” routine.

    Pop culture reflects what is important to those that have or want a limited world view. Keeping up with the Kardashians, or knowing which Real Housewives threw what at whom may be important to those with little a stake or just need an escape, but knowing what is important to the young and old is vitally important to those that are charged with creating policies that affect everyone.

    Robin William’s gift was also his curse. He understood far too well the vagaries of life that perplex us all. Such introspective capacity can be destructive because all any one person can do is make a joke out of darkest elements of human nature. Without a clear way to change things for the better, it is no wonder that he succumbed.

    It is axiomatic; when conservatives embrace pushing set boundaries then they cannot be considered conservatives and the liberal will have little to push against. Ask any liberal if they believe that anything should be permitted in a free society and you will find that even they have boundaries.

    • Personally, I take no umbrage at Sheppard’s remark. While ungentle, he’s correct. Suicide is an act of cowardice. It’s borne of being unwilling to face the hard truths, make the hard changes, take the big risks needed to alter one’s own circumstances. It’s problematic, because one must do battle with one’s own brain and deeply rooted fears. Owning and correcting’s one’s own faults and mistakes and failures is a huge undertaking, and I’m not surprised – although I frequently feel very, very badly for – that there are those who simply cannot bring themselves to take up that gauntlet.

      But the task is never as awful as it looks, and there is always help available – the folks at the suicide hotline are great, and 7cupsoftea.com is quite helpful, as well.Sometimes, you can even get lucky and find a friend or family member to support you. But the task is not impossible, and walking away from it due to fear of confronting it – yes, that is cowardice. By the very definition.

      • I’ve had three cousins kill themselves due to mental illness—depression, schizophrenia, and bi-polar syndrome. Suicide is one of the well-established bi-products of mental illness. There are suicides who are cowards, no question. Robin Williams…as well as Sophia (22), Trephon, (30) and Jimmy (56)…were not.

      • Aaron
        It is quite easy to play armchair quarterback when you are not cursed with an affliction that renders you powerless to find comfort. You said “It’s borne of being unwilling to face the hard truths, make the hard changes, take the big risks needed to alter one’s own circumstances.” That perspective is fine when you are talking about behavioral sociopathy but when the chemistry in the brain is altered the individual has very little or any control over the outcome. I’ll bet that Robin Williams did more to face his demons than most anyone else would who do not also suffer from a chemical disorder of the brain. Unless you have some personal insight into his medical history a blanket claim of being a coward is unjust.

        At this time, there is no prosthesis for remedying the destructive processes of mental illness other than using drugs to alter the brain chemistry. Unlike a prosthetic limb there is no guarantee that the medication will work as desired. Furthermore, as my wife and I have found out the hard way, long term use of anti-seizure and anti-depressives can have a high rate of mortality from the medications themselves.

        Calling someone a coward after the fact is not merely unnecessary and hurtful it turns some people away from acknowledging the need for help. All reports show that he did seek help and did his best to confront his problems head on. Despite that he succumbed.

        • At this time, there is no prosthesis for remedying the destructive processes of mental illness other than using drugs to alter the brain chemistry. Unlike a prosthetic limb there is no guarantee that the medication will work as desired. Furthermore, as my wife and I have found out the hard way, long term use of anti-seizure and anti-depressives can have a high rate of mortality from the medications themselves.

          There is a clue of how we can cure this.


          There is absolutely no upside to having the capacity to feel sad, none at all. It does nothing to ensure that we survive to breed to the next generation.It is more useless than an appendix. If we could eliminate the capacity to feel sadness, the world would be a paradise.

          • This sounds disturbingly like a scene from “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers”:

            Just think. Less than a month ago…
            Santa Mira was like any other town–people with nothing but problems.
            Then out of the sky came a solution. Seeds drifting through spacefor years…
            took root in a farmer’s field. From the seeds came pods…
            which had the power to reproduce themselves… in the exact likeness of any form of life.
            …Your new bodies are growing in there. They’re taking you over cell for cell… atom for atom. There’s no pain. Suddenly, while you’re asleep… they’ll absorb your minds, your memories… and you’re reborn into an untroubled world.

            Where everyone’s the same?

            Exactly…Tomorrow, you’ll be one of us.

            I love Becky.

            There’s no need for love.

            No emotion? Then you have no feelings, only the instinct to survive.Y ou can’t love or be loved!
            Am I right?

            You say it as if it were terrible. Believe me, it isn’t. You’ve been in love before. It didn’t last. It never does. Love, desire, ambition, faith–without them, life’s so simple, believe me.

          • Sounds like a recipe for hell. No choices, no autonomy, no feelings, no nothing. If you can’t feel sadness how will you know when you have happiness. There have to be opposites. My description of Hell, isn’t eternal unhappiness, it’s eternal nothingness.

              • No it’s saying that even though you have cancer your sorrow and pain as you deal with it has meaning. And the meaning is in how you handle it. Great sorrow can bring great happiness if we use our autonomy to triumph over it. And that happiness is of a quality and degree that can only come from the experience of sorrow and pain.

              • Paint a picture using only highlights, without shadows. Meaning and depth come from the contrast between dark and light. You propose lotus-eating in order to escape sadness and discomfort, when it is those very qualities which drive one to improve.

                • I propose the perfect solution. Our lives are not paintings. These “shadows” can kill.

                  Would life be better if we had some smallpox viruses in our bodies?

        • I actually AM cursed with that same affliction. I’ve battled depression for years now, and been hospitalized more than once. I’ve attempted to take my own life on four separate occasions, and sat, trembling in my chair afraid to move lest I make a fifth.

          I know well the sensation of looking into the future and seeing nothing but more pain and misery – and the certainty that not merely the only, but the best way of avoiding it is to end it. To choose to continue to live, despite the overwhelming fear that it will bring only torment and pain – that is bravery. I do not diminish that fear – it is overwhelming on a gargantuan scale. To decide to take one’s life is a relief beyond compare – but it is one stemming from the unwillingness to face the pain of tomorrow. And it is unwillingness – the options exist. Just as an abused spouse always has the option to simply leave their abuser, so too does the suicidal person always have the option to simply continue to live – the difficulty of seeing and undertaking a choice does not mean it is not an option.

          It makes sense to choose to end one’s life, rather than face a hellish future. But it remains an act of cowardice. And I mourn those who have made that choice.

          • It makes sense to choose to end one’s life, rather than face a hellish future. But it remains an act of cowardice. And I mourn those who have made that choice.

            As the article I linked to shows, it is possible to have a life where it is impossible to feel sad.

            We could make the world a paradise by eliminating the capacity to feel sad. The world needs sadness like it needs smallpox.

    • But Smith is a liberal, and isn’t typical of Fox. He’s wrong, and ignorant…suicide is a side effect of metal illness— but he’s not part of the syndrome I was writing about at Fox.

  6. Williams’ vitriolic stand-up routines sometimes left me with the impression that I was being entertained by the manifestation of an unstable man’s mental illness…I don’t think I care to laugh at a man’s demons any more than I care to root for concussion-addled football players…

    • Yes. I agree. There were times when Williams’ frantic riffs were a little scary, and the anger and desperation peaked through…something we never saw with his role model, Jonathan Winters.

  7. I think calling anyone who commits suicide a coward is an unfeeling ass. I do think, however, that there can be a dialogue about how suicide or untreated/poorly treated mental disorders affects the family. Because that can be devastating too. That being said, that dialogue shouldn’t happen immediately following a death.

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