“Boobs on the Ground” Ethics

"we have met the boob, and it is me."

“We have met the boob, and it is me.”

I was going to make this an Ethics Quiz, but that dignifies Eric Bolling’s crude and disrespectful comment on Fox’s “The Five” more than it deserves. Would I accept such a sophomoric “quip” at a dinner party of close friends, at a bachelor party, in a group of women who knew me and could tell when I was intentionally tweaking them, in a setting where groans and objects thrown at my head were appropriate?  Oh, probably. I’ve made worse jokes myself, knowing how bad they were, knowing they were offensive, knowing that I had the good will of my companions and that they would take them the right way. But as a presenter in a seminar? As a panel member? In an auditorium? Over the radio? On TV? Never.

Any statement is defined to some extent by the audience it was intended for (See: Sterling, Donald) For a supposed broadcast professional to say what Bolling said about the United Arab Emirates‘s first female pilot who served as the flight leader during air strikes in Syria (“Would that be considered boobs on the ground, or no?”) can’t be excused or justified:

  • The comment demeans women.
  • It demeans a courageous pilot putting who is her life on the line.
  • It diminishes a significant advance for her gender in her nation.
  • It encourages and endorses exactly the kind of bigotry and misogyny that had plagued and continues to plague women in our armed forces and in the UAE generally.
  • It continues the progressive  coarsening of our culture and our national discourse.

Yes, I understand: “The Five” is supposed to be a conservative, “The View”-style, irreverent, half entertainment/ half political commentary mutation where the tone is edgier and the rhetoric more free-wheeling than on “Meet the Press.” Got it. It doesn’t matter. Bolling was so far out of line that he couldn’t see the line with the Mount Palomar telescope INSIDE the Hubble telescope.

And Greg Gutfield’s Fifties era, Danny Thomas gag about the pilot not being able to park the plane? I think he was right not to apologize (Bolling has, twice):

a) It was not crude.

b) I thought it was an obvious joke about old jokes, and intentionally stupid;

c) Guttfield is a comic, and deserves some leeway.

Bolling isn’t, and doesn’t.  He’s a professional pundit. I know, I know: Anderson Cooper’s snickering “tea bagger” attack on the air in the early days of the tea party movement was even more disgusting, unseemly and unprofessional, and the news media treated him with kid gloves. Okay, but we know that the media is biased, that Cooper is the Golden Child and that 90% of reporters were happy to see the tea partiers mocked, even obscenely. The outrage being aimed at Bolling isn’t excessive in any way.

Over on Mediaite, where all threads degenerate into name-calling and partisan idiocy (I just did an audit on Politico: same thing. Yechh.), the big divide is exemplified by comments screaming: “It was a pun! He shouldn’t apologize! What’s this country coming to? You’re an idiot!” met by “Typical fat chicken hawk insulting those who fight for them! You’re ‘as stupid and the fool who made this statement but then you are probably one of Faux followers and that speaks volumes.'”

Ugh. No, this isn’t the end of the world (Rationalization #22), or even the dumbest thing said on cable news in the last, say, 48 hours. It’s unprofessional, though. It calls into question the caliber of broadcasters Fox is hiring,  their judgment, taste, and self-control. Sure its a pun, but its a cheap pun, a lazy pun, and if you don’t have a little switch in your head—call it an Ethics Alarm—that clicks when you are considering saying something like this out loud on national television and it tells you, “Uh-uh, better not..” then maybe you shouldn’t be on television.

For our part, out there in TV land, we could help too by demanding just a little more class. All baseball season, I watched an idiot on NESN (the New England Sports Network that carries Red Sox games) promote his cheesy ticket service, Ace Tickets, with the slogan, “Sit your Ace down.” HAR! That’s a pun too, and it’s not clever, funny, or necessary, just gratuitously crude.

If we do a better job reminding supposed professionals that we really don’t want the airwaves full of  the crude, dumb, crass blather get we can get by eavesdropping on the average group sitting in the booth behind us, maybe that switch will work more often, in Bolling’s head, and others.


Sources: Mediaite, Slate, Washington Post, TPM, Business Insider


20 thoughts on ““Boobs on the Ground” Ethics

  1. The problem is that such comments boost ratings from both sides. Whether or not his mea culpa was sincere enough is for others to determine.

    This country faces some serious issues that often take a back seat to coverage of unseemly and offensive comments, derisive rhetoric, and a mind numbing preoccupation with just “the other guy is wrong” and not the elements of a persuasive point of view.

    The public gets what it wants. The public demand for this type of controversy is major part of the problem. Television will not deliver programming that is designed to enlighten. Enlightenment takes time and in television time is expensive. People want short snippets they can hang their existing opinions on, or something they can use to denigrate an opposing view. Sometimes both.

    Eric Bolling may well be an especially good oil trader in a prior life but that does not necessarily make every opinion he makes on foreign policy sound. He is neither a journalist nor a pundit. He is a showman just as virtually every other commentator that appears on CNBC, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC and ESPN. His opinions on such matters are about as valuable as my own.

    The irony in this case is that Bolling always sides with female on the issue of domestic violence. To me, his words on other occasions seem to suggest that he wants to comes across as the big strong male who will come to the aid of women. His comments regarding boobs on the ground reinforce that patriarchal impression I have of him. That’s Bolling. That’s Showbiz.

  2. On the topic of the female pilot: She received the honor of being disowned by her clan for the actions she took against ISIS.


    Sorry fellas, but a society oriented around “clans” and “tribes” and not rule of law surrender ALL consideration.

  3. His remark is disgusting and should not be tolerated. He should be able to stop himself from saying it because he clearly thought it up in advance. No doubt he thought it was cute. The fact that he thought it was cute is a problem for a person getting paid to talk on TV.
    I just don’t get why so many people keep doing stuff like this even when they can (or at least should be able to) see a backlash would result from it.

  4. Since we’re all being righteous critics here, I’ll just say that I am disappointed that Bolling was not more witty. I mean, he could have related the pilot’s actions to breast envy, and her exploitation of her country’s commitment to having “boobs in the air, hammering bigger boobs on the ground.” Or he could have made a better pun, using the Middle Eastern word for wind and dust storms, praising the haboobs aloft for overpowering haboobs on the ground. For my morning outrage, I’m disrupted, degraded and disappointed by the 15-yard penalty for the football player who scored the touchdown and commenced the heinous act of Islamic Tebowing. Ratings, indeed.

  5. I just don’t get it. I really don’t. These people aren’t stupid. They’re educated, experienced, they know that shit like that’ll get them in trouble. So why do they say it? Do their ratings actually go up? Is the average viewer that partisan and stupid? Or am I wrong, and they didn’t know they’d get that much blowback?

    In Canada, we have the Sun News Network, which is kind of like Fox-light for Canadians. Ezra Levant just got called out for comparing the leader of the Liberal party kissing a bride at her wedding (cheek) to the middle age practise of royalty taking newlyweds to their bedchambers. It was a stupid comment. Why Ezra? Why Fox? Do you insist on painting conservatism as idiots to the moderates?

  6. Bolling should be fired. That’s clear. Sexist in the extreme, not even funny, and a slip that shows his true colors.

    That said…

    This is one example of the plight of modern professional women. If you’re pretty, you must have gotten your job on your looks. If you’re not pretty or you’re overweight — or worse. OLD — you should get thee to the the Botox doctor and/or gym QUICK — so men can stand to look at you. Who cares whether men take pleasure in watching you do you job? Who should allow it.? Believe it or not, I have never dressed for men, have made a career out of dressing conservatively in business settings, and have never allowed my good looks to be a positive factor in professional relationships, advancement, etc.

    Glass ceiling notwithstanding: who talks about men and their abilities and connect it somehow to their looks?

    I think all soldiers/political appointees/elected officials should wear burkhas — not for religious reasons, but to get the goddamn sex/attractiveness/jokester crap out of the equation. This is an outrage.

    • Elizabeth
      OK, so we fire Bolling because he is a sexist. Your entire rant is a hodgepodge of generalizations about men’s attitudes toward women. That itself is sexist.

      Should we also fire all the women that Fox employs because they often dress with plunging necklines. Should a women be fired because she makes a comment that men are simply little boys that need toys to make up for some physical shortcoming. If I got outraged over such nonsense I would quickly become unable to cope.

      You said to “have never allowed my good looks to be a positive factor in professional relationships, advancement, etc.” Well if true, and you have achieved success with nothing more than your ability, then everything you claimed is unsubstantiated; at least from your own experience. So how did you come to these conclusions? In my estimation because you want to believe the stereotype that women have created for men. Why? I’ll leave that up to you.

      I can point to numerous studies that do equate the western ideal of male attractiveness to career advancement and income potential. Tall men are seen as more confident, The square jaw somehow implies strength. Why isn’t Danny Devito cast as the lead romantic character in movies? What made Rock Hudson, Paul Newman, Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and others the heartthrobs of the silver screen.

      Women are the only people I hear talk about how an attractive woman achieved success because of her sexual attractiveness or inappropriate behaviors. I suggest that such talk is merely a way to compensate for their own sense of inadequacy.

    • I wouldn’t fire Bolling. Have you watched “The Five”? That’s par for the course. The token Democrat, Bob Beckle, has made dozens of gaffes just as bad. I don’t believe in firing anyone who has to talk off the top of his or her head on live TV or radio, except in the most extreme circumstances. Have you tried it? It’s hard. Do it long enough, and you’ll say something offensive and stupid. If you are trying to be slick and edgy, it’s even harder. These guys DESERVE a little rope, as do insult comics and, er, bloggers. The amazing thing isn’t that Rush Limbaugh, for example, occasionally crosses lines, but that he manages to do it so seldom. But it’s tightrope walking, and perfection is impossible.

      I just read a Facebook post mocking Palin for talking about “1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Naturally, the poster would excuse Obama’s “57 states” gaffe. Spaeking for a living is harder than anyone who doesn’t do it thinks. A little forgiveness is in order.

      It doesn’t make what Bolling said any less stupid, though.

  7. Humble
    Smart people say stupid things from time to time. I think we all want to validate our own opinions by piling on when someone slips up. It makes us feel really good and pious.

    Luckyestman man so aptly pointed out our righteous indignation over such matters. It makes us feel good when we can condemn the actions of another. These well publicized remarks serve to energize the audience. It promotes an us versus them mentality and helps the ratings for the show.

    These people are in business to sell a product. Because there are enough people that want to defend the indefensible because to do otherwise would invalidate their own beliefs those folks will surely tune in to support their favorite media that is under siege. Conversely, there are a sufficient number that want the person crucified so they tune in as well to see him/her slip up again. This is why there was so much coverage of the fits and foibles of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. His buffoonery captured a great deal of attention even though his antics had little impact on anyone’s life outside of Toronto.

    “When smashing monuments, save the pedestals. They always come in handy.” ― Stanisław Lem

  8. He’s a professional pundit. I know, I know: Anderson Cooper’s snickering “tea bagger” attack on the air in the early days of the tea party movement was even more disgusting, unseemly and unprofessional, and the news media treated him with kid gloves. Okay, but we know that the media is biased, that Cooper is the Golden Child and that 90% of reporters were happy to see the tea partiers mocked, even obscenely. The outrage being aimed at Bolling isn’t excessive in any way.

    Here exactly is the problem.

    Why would anyone refrain from a course of behavior that the “right” people tolerates- let alone rewards?

  9. I’d only point out that, sooner or later, SOMEONE would have made a boob joke. Men can’t help it! Besides, The Five is just that kind of show… five folks shooting the breeze and occasionally wandering along the taboo borderland. I’ll match it up any day against the filth, lies and hate you get from “commentators” on other networks.

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