Brad Paisley and Jon Stewart: The “It Was Just A Joke” Follies

Joker04Once again, we visit the ethically murky realm of jokes, near-jokes, misfired jokes, fake jokes, the ‘it was just a joke’ excuse and things the purveyor of non-jokes wish were jokes after the fact. Interestingly, by my estimation, the real and non-offending joke among our twin set today was the one delivered by a non-comedian, and the dishonest joke excuse was employed by a professional comic.

Case A: Jon Stewart

Appearing on CNN election day with Christiane Amanpour to talk about the  midterm elections, the host asked Stewart if he voted. The comic/pundit/news anchor/progressive hit man responded “no” saying, “I just moved. I don’t know even where my thing is now.” Said Ann Althouse:

“The epitome of apathy. And this is the man who shows the young folks how to think!”

She was not alone. Later, as he hosted a special live election night edition of “The Daily Show,” Stewart  apologized, saying:

“…to set the record straight, I did vote today… I was being flip, and it kind of took off, and you know what, I want to apologize. It sent a message that that I didn’t think voting was important. I shouldn’t have done that. That was stupid.”

This was flagged to me as a solid and ethical apology, and I agree, if that’s what it was.  I don’t think that is what it was, though. I think it was damage control, and a lie. Maybe Stewart voted and maybe he didn’t, but he’s a professional comic. His “flip” dismissal of voting to Amanpour didn’t read a s a joke, and she didn’t seem to take it as one. He’s one of the highest paid and popular comedians in the country, and doesn’t know how to make it clear when he’s joking? Or can’t tell when a joke misfires, and he has to backtrack so people don’t think he’s serious? I am dubious.

I admit to enjoying it when Stewart gets caught in his “I’m a real news commentator/ How can you take me seriously?” pose, which allows him to influence the political views of his young audience ( as Althouse noted) while denying any obligation to be responsible via the jester’s privilege when he is caught being unfair, biased, or mistaken, almost always in the service of progressive goals and the Democratic Party. Was Stewart, as I have been told by his defenders, really giving the admittedly humor-impaired Amanpour a rye and ironic response that highlighted his relentless criticism of voter ID measures as a racist GOP voter suppression strategy? Or was he simply displaying the same attitude as his target audience, which largely sat out the election because they would rather laugh at the people trying to run the country than do their part in guiding them?

Sorry, Stewart lovers, and maybe I feel this way because I don’t trust a supposed truth-teller who only seems to see misconduct, incompetence and hypocrisy on one side of the political spectrum, with rare exceptions. I think he told Amanpour the truth; I think he didn’t vote; I think it was a joke about not voting; I think he realized how much of a hypocrite the response made him look like, and even that he might be blamed for validating the decision of a key Democrat demographic yo sit out the mid-terms.

I think he apologized sincerely, but lied about what he was apologizing for. But who knows when Jon Stewart is sincere and when he isn’t? And how can anyone who that sentence can be written about responsibly operate a news source that young American regard as their primary source of news?

Case B. Brad Paisley

Hosting the televised Country Music Awards live on ABC last night, co-host Brad Paisley referred to one of the shows the CMA’s were pre-empting, the new African-American family comedy “Black-ish,” in a joke referencing the famously un-black music genre the night honored. As black  performer Darius Rucker prepared to take the stage,  Paisley said,

If you were looking for “Black-ish” tonight, yeah, this ain’t it. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy White-ish.

Whereupon he was immediately subjected to a barrage of criticism on social media, accusing him of making a racist joke….indeed, according to one critic, one of the most racist jokes ever.

There was absolutely nothing racist about the joke, which was well-constructed, factual, self-deprecating, innocent, and funny.

It is now clear that the six years of journalists, bloggers, activists, and unscrupulous political hacks hurling constant accusation of racism against anyone who steps within 500 yards of a racial topic, a black office-holder, or the words “black,” “race,” “thug,” “crime,” “urban,” and about 100 others (you’ll have to ask Chris Matthews for the full list), combined with the exhaustive use of political correctness to label anything and everything “offensive,” from signs advertizing bacon to the names of NFL teams, has left a substantial portion of the population with a race-baiting hair-trigger, and no coherent idea what “racist” means anymore.

They are morons.

And you can tell them I said so, because they need to know.


Pointer: Tim LeVier

Facts: Detroit Free Press, CNN

26 thoughts on “Brad Paisley and Jon Stewart: The “It Was Just A Joke” Follies

  1. I think it is easy enough to find out if Stewart voted. They do keep records of those that showed up to the polls, and who didn’t.

    I agree that the “White-ish” joke was just funny, nothing more. If anything, more self-deprecating.

  2. “I think he didn’t vote; I think it was a joke about not voting; I think he realized how much of a hypocrite the response made him look like, and even that he might be blamed for validating the decision of a key Democrat demographic yo sit out the mid-terms.

    I think he apologized sincerely, but lied about what he was apologizing for.”

    That was exactly my thought when the story broke. He came up with the reason for not voting far too quickly and it is too plausible not to be believed. Since a great many people who move don’t really prioritize learning where their new polling place is, it is quite possible that a recent move left Stewart with other things on his mind. In my opinion, he was being honest with Amanpour and quickly jumped into damage control when he realized what a poor example it set.

    Not a joke.

    Paisley’s was a joke. It was pretty funny, too. I really wish the Official Racist Code Book would be published so we can all know what words we aren’t allowed to say.

  3. Jack:

    Stewart’s Joke and Apology:

    I am not a regular viewer of Stewart’s show but I have watched it enough to have an idea of where sits on the political spectrum I would be more inclined to accept that he made a mistake in judgment if it had been on his show where he mocks all kinds of things and is not a formal news setting. Here, however, he was a pundit with Christiane Amanpour on CNN giving news analysis, in CNN’s shop, analyzing and commenting on the election results. This setting is significantly more serious and formal calling for more coherent thought. The tone of his comment was not ironic or mocking lazy people for not voting. It was off-the-cuff and spontaneous.

    Having stated that, pardon me if I am being overly obtuse, but this sentence struck me as logically flawed: “I think he apologized sincerely, but lied about what he was apologizing for.” What am I missing?

    If he lied about why he was apologizing, how can his apology be sincere? I am trying to find the appropriate place on your Apology Scale and I would put it down in the 6, 7, 9 or 10 categories. It seems that, if he lied about why he apologized (“Um . . . Uh . . . I really shouldn’t have said that I didn’t vote because . . . um . . . I am kind of a role model to the 20-35 year old crowd, so sorry, my bad.”), then there was no apology at all. It was insincere, attempting to deflect criticism for a moronic comment (deceitful?), and reflected no contrition on his part (again, deceitful?). I won’t give him the benefit of the doubt because he should know better. He is smart, articulate, fairly well educated and can be very funny.

    Paisley’s Joke:

    Brad Paisley is not a politician. He is not a national political pundit. He is a cross-over country musician who plays a mean Fender Telecaster (ed note: I didn’t watch the CMA – I preferred to have pins stuck in my eyes. I abhor cross-over country music. It is boring, formulaic and horrid, but I recognize that he is a very gifted musician who probably play Brahms at the same skill level). My only thought about the joke was that he may not have said it off the cuff but read it off of a teleprompter. However, I find nothing outrageous or racist. Country music, especially cross-over country music is mass-marketed to a predominantly white audience. His comment is/was amusing and in no way maligned or impugned Blacks. I would give him a pass in hopes that he stops playing that God-awful cross-over stuff so that I can enjoy is guitar playing.


  4. Stewart: All of the speculation aside, I’m glad you think that if one does take him at his word, it’s a good and ethical apology. Thanks for the pointer credit!

  5. It is a racist joke. So? That doesn’t make it unethical. A large number of jokes are based on flawed premises (which are either assumed or not spoken as part of the joke). The flaw in the premise is part of what adds humor to the joke.

    What makes such a joke unethical is whether or not the flawed premise was designed out of malice or not. The flawed premise is that Country Music is White People Music. So? He delivered it with a quick play on the words of the titles. It was amusing, and it hurt nobody because the flawed premise wasn’t designed nor delivered with spite.

    Believe it or not there are sexist jokes that are funny…there are homophobic jokes that are funny. So? Just like there are those kinds of jokes that are decidedly not funny. It isn’t the category of joke that makes it unethical, but rather the premise in question…just like I’d imagine most of Chimpmania’s jokes are decided in the unethical column, that doesn’t make all racist jokes unethical.

    Let’s lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously. This is part of the civility problem we have.

    We discussed this before


    Here in the same article

    • I agree with all of that, except that by no stretch of the imagination could the joke be called racist. It is a joke involving race. That’s not racist. To be racist, it would require denigrating and stereotyping blacks. The joke stereotyped and satirized the CMA’s and country music. It was no more denigrating to blacks than Asians or Jews.

      • Well I disagree with those accusing paisley of racism towards blacks. The “whitish” joke distinctly pokes fun at whites, the stereotypical country music fan. And because it isn’t denigrating, it passes the ethics tests. But since it is based on a fairly solid stereotype of country music fans and whites, it is racist.

        • I get your point, but its still a wildly broad definition of racism:

          rac·ism—noun 1. The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. 2. prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

          If you are going for 1, it’s backward. Racist: All blacks are good basketball players. Not racist: Almost all pro basketball players are black. Racist: All whites love Lawrence Welk music. Not Racist: Almost all Lawrence Welk fans are white.

          Paisley noted that Country Music is almost all white. That’s TRUE, and it isn’t racist to say so.

          • Yeah. Fair enough. Fine. He’s being music genre-ist.

            Of course, that technically makes the following comment not racist:

            Almost all aggravated rapists are black.

            Just statistically unsupportable.

              • Possibly. I haven’t seen it so I don’t know with any authority the premises of the jokes.

                Even if it is, so? I don’t necessarily take umbrage with racist jokes. Some of them are quite funny. Certain racist jokes, depending on what premise is being advanced as part of it may make them unethical, however.

                • I thought the premise was that at least some of the characters are mixed-race, hence “black-ish”. Because of Darius Rucker, the CMA isn’t white, it is ‘white-ish’. I don’t see what makes it racist. It is about race, but it isn’t meant to insult or demean. It doesn’t suggest that one race is inferior or shouldn’t have equal rights. It doesn’t suggest that Darius Rucker doesn’t belong there or that he isn’t as good as anyone else there.

                  • But I can’t accept mere negativity or malice as a root component of racism. Some racist comments are nice- “asians are good at math”.

                    The definition of racism can only make sense if the situation in question is based on a premise that derives from an illogical mandatory association of a charateristic with a race – good or bad.

                    • But this comment was just an acknowledgement that the audience and group represented was mostly white. I’m not sure how that is offensive. If a town is mostly white and someone says the town is mostly white, I’m not sure what is racist about that.

  6. I didn’t see the CMAs either, but the Paisley joke seems racist to me. Was he referring to Rucker as “white-ish” because he is a black man involved with country music? Isn’t this very similar to referring to conservative or wealthy blacks as “white-ish” or not real blacks? That is certainly racist, suggesting that black people have to give up being black in order to do things which are expected of white people.

    • Ridiculous. He was comparing TV shows, and his, the CMA, is obviously about an overwhelmingly white art form, in both performer and audience. Was there any thing in what he said vaguely denigrating to blacks? No—in fact, the ABC sitcom’s title is moreso. Was he suggesting white superiority or black inferiority? No. Was he suggesting anything negative about blacks at all, especially since most blacks would rather chew their feet off than have to listen to country western music? No. Simply mentioning race isn’t racist. You know my description in the psot about people who no longer know what racist means? That, apparently, is you. I’m so sorry.

      And this, while irrelevant to Paisley’s joke—suggesting that black people have to give up being black in order to do things which are expected of white people—is neither racist or coherent. And who has ever suggested that? Certainly not Paisley.

      • I’m suggesting that it could be misconstrued as Paisley saying Rucker, not the CMAs, is “white-ish,” for doing something traditionally associated with white people. I am sure he did not intend it that way, as Paisley consistently speaks out against racism, but I could see it being misunderstood just because of its timing right before Rucker’s set.

        I stand by what I said, although it may have been awkwardly worded. Many people say blacks who are conservative are “not real blacks.” This suggests that because the black person has a belief system in line with more whites than blacks, that he is no longer “really black.” I don’t see how that could not be considered racist.

        • Even BLACKS don’t consider that kind of thinking racist—hence Clarence Thomas isn’t “really black,” and Bill Clinton is. It may be stupid, but its not racist.

          Meanwhile, you are reading a Rosetta Stone’s worth of contest into the single word, “Whitish.” Especially since the joke’s construction demands an apples and apples interpretation—THAT show/THIS show. THAT show/this guy whose coming on to sing after me is an example of looking to find a slur when there isn’t any.

          • Even if the supposed ‘racism’ in Paisley’s joke was the result of a misinterpretation that he was referring to Rucker, rather than the CMAs, as ‘white-ish,’ Paisley isn’t guilty of anything worse than (arguably) questionable timing. And even if Paisley meant the word as a deliberate slur on Rucker, which he DIDN’T, whoever thinks this is one of the most racist jokes ever would still need to get out more.

            Mr. Marshall, I hope you aren’t trying to imply that labeling a person ‘less black’ because of his political beliefs (or musical preferences, etc.) ISN’T racist, just because some black liberals do it to their conservative brethren. It’s racist when blacks do it, and it’s racist when anyone else does it – and there are plenty of black conservatives who have indeed stood up and said so.

            • I find the practice obnoxious and stupid, and insulting. But it’s still not racist. The practice stems from the belief that there is a “true” black persona, and then leaps to the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. **No blacks like country music. What about Rucker? Well, no real blacks like country music.**

              I’ll accept the proposition that it should be considered racism. But blacks, the main victims of racism, should also have to live with their definition of it. Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton the first black President because he came from some of the same socially dysfunctional origins as poor black culture suffers from. Nobody, but nobody, ever claimed that was racist, though I thought it was clearly so at the time. Why not? Apparently because she’s black, calling a white man “blackish” without intending to insult him. Fine. She’s regarded as a benign black icon, so if she can call a white man “blackish,” a white man can call a black man “whitish” and be given the same pass. Racism, then, is a black woman calling a black man (Like Herman Cain) “whitish” as an insult, or a white man calling a white progressive woman “blackish,” as in a traitor to her race.

              All of which is irrelevant to what Paisley intended and said.

  7. WOW! When I initially heard the joke I knew it would evoke this ridiculousness. Why is it that a white person can’t say or joke about one think of the opposite race? Yet everyone else can? I can be called a honkey or whatever and have to brush it off…..but If I say one thing, just one tiny joke or even a simple statement/example of race; I’m penalized and called a racist. It is annoying and I have had enough. In Canada minorities are valued under the equity act therefore live a better life than aa white person. Stop this crap already.

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