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.