It may be a sign of the apocalypse but I find myself not only in agreement with Sarah Palin but angry at her treatment by a MSNBC host. Palin recently canceled a NBC interview with Matt Lauer over the failure of MSNBC to discipline host Martin Bashir for saying that someone should defecate in Palin’s mouth after she compared federal debt to slavery. While I once worked for MSNBC, I have been shocked by the effort of the network to be the Fox News of the left — with hosts often blindly supporting the President, seriously comparing Holder to Moses, and even defending the surveillance of journalists (which Bashir did) in defense of the Administration. For civil libertarians, it has been a blow to see MSNBC yield to a type of cult of personality around Obama while basic civil liberties are being denied by this Administration. However, Bashir was able to hit truly a new low and the lack of a serious response beyond an on-air apology sends the message that anything goes when the target is a conservative and critic of the President.
First let’s start off with Palin’s remark:
“Our free stuff today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China. When that money comes due… it’ll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master.”
A bit over-the-top, yes. Unprecedented, no. Many people warn of the dependency on China as the holder of our debt. Moreover, the use of the noun slavery to refer to such dependency is hardly shocking. Standard dictionaries include the following definitions of slavery beyond actual human bondage: “The condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence. 4. A condition of hard work and subjection.” In other words, Palin was using the term in a recognized and hardly unprecedented fashion. Moreover, the Chinese debt is a serious problem that has been discussed by both liberals and conservatives.
Bashir however seemed eager to attack Palin on the use of the word slavery as opposed to her obvious point. Indeed, it was Bashir who seemed to go off the deep end with a lecture on horror of slavery which no one (including Palin) had questioned.
He quotes Palin and then says:
“So here’s an example. One of the most comprehensive first-person accounts of slavery comes from the personal diary of a man called Thomas Thistlewood, who kept copious notes for 39 years. Thistlewood was the son of a tenant farmer, who arrived on the island of Jamaica in April 1750, and assumed the position of overseer at a major plantation.
What is most shocking about Thistlewood’s diary is not simply the fact that he assumes the right to own and possess other human beings, but is the sheer cruelty and brutality of his regime,” Bashir added. “In 1756, he records that a slave named Darby ‘catched eating kanes had him well flogged and pickled, then made Hector, another slave, s-h-i-t in his mouth.’
This became known as ‘Darby’s Dose,’ a punishment invented by Thistlewood that spoke only of inhumanity. And he mentions a similar incident in 1756, his time in relation to a man he refers to as Punch. ‘Flogged punch well, and then washed and rubbed salt pickle, lime juice and bird pepper, made Negro Joe piss in his eyes and mouth’ . . . She confirms if anyone truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood, she would be the outstanding candidate.”
It was unhinged and unfair and disgraceful. However, some Palin critics immediately attacked Palin as insulting African-Americans by even using the word slavery. This was raised by Jake Tapper in a later interview:
TAPPER: You can understand why African Americans or others might be offended by it, though?
PALIN: I — I can if they choose to misinterpret what it is that I’m saying. And, again, you know, I’m sure if we open up the dictionary, we could prove that with semantics that are various, we can prove that there is a definition of slavery that absolutely fits the bill there, when I’m talking about a bankrupt country that will owe somebody something down the line if we don’t change things that is, we will be shackled. We will be enslaved to those who we owe.
Once again, I do not share the condemnation of Palin as somehow dismissing or lessening the crime of slavery in this country. Nor do I think she was lecturing African-Americans. I do not see how any reasonable reading of her comments can produce such interpretation. However, in today’s environment, everyone seems on a hair-trigger to condemn and unleash the type of disgusting retort of Bashir. There seems to be a view that opposing figures like Palin deserve no consideration or decency in the treatment of her comments.
Bashir later apologized:
“I wanted to take this opportunity to say sorry to Mrs. Palin, and to also offer an unreserved apology to her friends and family, her supporters, our viewers, and anyone who may have heard what I said. I deeply regret what I said and that I have learned a sober lesson in these last few days that the politics of vitriol and destruction is a miserable place to be and a miserable person to become.”
What was missing was any discipline from MSNBC.
Perhaps this outrageous comment might produce some needed soul-searching at MSNBC over its decision to become an echo-chamber for the White House. However, there is no evidence of it in the silence from MSNBC.
Various people came forward to defend Bashir and question whether even an apology was needed:
Basically, as Jason Easley pointed out at the time, Palin was essentially telling African-Americans that they don’t really know what slavery is, and it takes someone like Palin to explain it to them. If you think that’s offensive, well congratulations, you are a normal functioning human being. It is with that backdrop that Bashir made the following comments on his show on Friday
I do not see it that way and I am no fan of Palin. I fail to see how her original or later comments sought to tell “African-Americans that they don’t really know what slavery is.” That is equally unfair to Palin. I fail to see why our current political divisions justify taking every comment of an opposing figure to the worst possible meaning, particularly when the meaning seem quite evident.
Do you think an apology is enough in this circumstance when a host says that someone should defecate in the mouth of a conservative leader?