Preview: Conservative boycotts designed to punish individuals for speech are exactly as unethical as progressive boycotts for the same purpose.
The Victim: Joy Behar, alleged comic and long-standing co-host of ABC”s “The View,” or “A Lot Of Loud-Mouth Celebrity Women Without Special Expertise Or Insight Ranting Against Republicans And Conservatives With An Occasional Lame Interjection From A Token Conservative Woman Of Moderate To Negligible Erudition And Wit.”
Behar’s main function on “The View” is to be the upper limit for extreme abrasiveness and obtuseness. If a host exceeds Behar’s level of either, she has to go; thus former child star Raven (dumber than Joy) and Rosie O’Donnell (even more obnoxious than Joy) had to go.
The Controversy: In a February 13 segment discussing Vice President Mike Pence’s belief that God speaks to him, Behar said: “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you. That’s called mental illness, if I’m not correct . . . hearing voices.” Other members of “The View” panel piled on as the audience clapped and laughed.
The Aftermath: In a “People” interview about whether she would consider running for President, Oprah Winfrey, who can do no wrong in the eyes of The View-ers, said,
“I went into prayer: ‘God, if you think I’m supposed to run, you gotta tell me, and it has to be so clear that not even I can miss it.’ And I haven’t gotten that.”
Shortly after this, Behar said that she was only joking about Pence.
The Boycott: The conservative Media Research Center launched a campaign against “The View,” pressuring its advertisers to pull support for the show until Pence and viewers received a formal apology for Joy’s “crass, bigoted comments.” Almost 40,000 calls were made to ABC from the MRC’s grassroots followers. The National Center’s Justin Danhof confronted Disney CEO Bob Iger at a Disney shareholder meeting last week, and asked, “Specifically, do you think, like Ms. Hostin and Ms. Behar, that having a Christian faith is akin to a dangerous mental illness?”
The Capitulation: First, Vice President Pence confirmed that Behar had called him and apologized personally. He told Sean Hannity yesterday that he had forgiven Behar, and that he had urged her to make a public apology to the millions of Christians she offended with her comments. Today, on “The View,” Behar said,
“I was raised to respect everyone’s religious faith and I fell short of that. I sincerely apologize for what I said.”
Analysis: This occurred a full month after the comments, which Behar and “The View” knew would offend millions of people. They didn’t care. Thus Behar’s is not in any way a sincere apology. On the Apology Scale, it is a Level 7:
7. A forced or compelled apology in which the individual (or organization) apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent .
Obviously Disney, which owns ABC, told Behar that she had better apologize or else. If Disney or the show’s producers chose to force Behar to apologize on their own, or after reading various articles, essays and blog posts condemning the ridicule of the Vice President for his expression of faith, that would be appropriate. After all, she is their employee, and what she does reflects on them. However, this occurred because a conservative group used the threat of an economic boycott to bend Disney, ABC and Behar to its will, and by so doing, was warning others that anti-Christian statements, even jokes (although I don’t believe for a second that Bahar was joking), will be punished, not with “more speech,” but with potentially devastating economic attacks.
Behar was already in an uncomfortable place, since Oprah’s comments made it difficult to double down on her “mental illness” claim. That was enough, along with whatever individual viewers tweeted and emailed, to make Behar and the producers consider whether it might be wise to retract the wisecrack. But her actual apology was forced speech, speech compelled by power, and if Behar had any integrity or courage, or if she cared about or understood civil liberties, she should have said, “I’m sorry, but I’m a comedian and a pundit, I mock people for a living, and I’m not going to be bullied. If every statement the Right doesn’t like is going to be met with an economic boycott, then free speech will become impossible. And Disney should be standing behind me, not shaking in fear.”
Behar didn’t cross any absolute lines here, unlike, for example, Kathy Griffin, who made light of Presidential assassination, or David Letterman, who ridiculed Sarah Palin’s then minor daughter, or Stephen Colbert, who called the President of the United States a “cock-holster.” There is plenty to criticize about her comment, as there is about the insults “The View” harpies level at the President every day, so let the criticism rip.
Economic boycotts aimed at controlling speech threaten our liberties. They are unethical, and have to stop.