He's a gap-toothed late-night comedian, and he's in justifiably hot water for making some pretty vile jokes about Sarah Palin. It's hard, however, to take conservatives seriously when you consider that each day, leaders of the conservative movement throw aside the reasonable boundaries of civil political discourse by using wickedly divisive, cruelly insensitive, intentionally misleading, and downright hateful rhetoric.
He doesn't host his own syndicated talk radio show. That isn't his chair behind the desk of a cable-news program. You won't find his byline on the op-ed pages, discussing the ins and outs of President Obama's latest policy proposal.
He's a gap-toothed, late night comedian, and he's in justifiably hot water with conservatives for making some pretty vile jokes.
Earlier this month on CBS' Late Show, host David Letterman took aim at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's recent trip to New York City, offering up some off-color and patently sexist quips. During his opening monologue, Letterman said, “One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game. During the 7th inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” Then, later in the same broadcast, while presenting No. 2 on his famed Top Ten list, this time of “Highlights of Sarah Palin's Trip to New York,” Letterman said the former Republican vice presidential nominee had “bought makeup at Bloomingdale's to update her 'slutty flight attendant' look.”
Letterman did the right thing in apologizing twice for his tasteless attempts at humor, finally noting that the intention of his jokes was meaningless when considering the way any rational-thinking person would perceive his jokes. Ultimately, though, it is Letterman's future conduct that will determine the sincerity of his contrition.
Still, the right's fury rages on.
It is hard, however, to take conservatives seriously when one considers that each and every day, real players in the rudderless conservative movement -- powerful talk-radio hosts, cable-news hosts, pundits, columnists, and bloggers -- throw aside the reasonable boundaries of a civil political discourse by using wickedly divisive, cruelly insensitive, intentionally misleading, and downright hateful rhetoric. And the response from their followers? Hardly a peep.
Rank hypocrisy is nothing new for right-wingers -- or politics in general, for that matter -- but in a selfless attempt to help them avoid the “hypocrite” label this time around, I humbly present a Top Ten list of “Right-Wingers From Whom Conservatives Should Be Demanding Apologies.”
10) Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, for falsely claiming a hate-crimes bill that adds gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans to the list of protected groups would also protect those who commit incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, and a host of other perversions.
9) Fox News' Sean Hannity, for hosting “Internet journalist” Andy Martin, who once called a judge a “crooked, slimy Jew, who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race.”
8) Syndicated radio host Neal Boortz, for describing welfare recipients as “human parasitic garbage lining up to get their applications to loot.”
7) Fox News conspiracy-theorist-in-chief Glenn Beck, for describing Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court as, “Hey, Hispanic chick lady! You're empathetic. ... You're in!”
6) MSNBC's resident cranky uncle, Pat Buchanan, for saying prior to Sotomayor's selection that he wanted Obama to pick a Supreme Court justice “who has real stature, impresses people” but thinking instead that Obama would pick “a minority, a woman and/or a Hispanic.”
5) Syndicated radio host Jim Quinn, for repeatedly calling NOW the “National Organization of Whores.”
4) Cincinnati-based radio host Bill Cunningham, for alleging that “Obama wants to gas the Jews.”
3) Michael Savage (née Weiner), the third-highest-rated radio host in America, for saying “Obama hates” and “is raping America.”
And No. 1, the conservative movement's de facto leader, Rush Limbaugh, for saying of Obama, “We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles ... because his father was black.”
In all honesty, the list could have included dozens of other media conservatives, with comments and actions numbering in the hundreds.
At the end of the day, expecting consistency from a movement motivated primarily by divisiveness and fearmongering is perhaps a bit much to ask. It's sad that the righteous complaints over Letterman's ill-conceived jokes are undermined by the right's inability to hold their own ilk accountable.
We should all be concerned about the level of sexism, racism, homophobia, and bigotry in general found in today's media landscape -- regardless of the offending party. Unfortunately, much like the iconic gap between Letterman's front teeth, so too is there a gaping hole in the credibility of his conservative critics, however justified their claims may be.
Karl Frisch is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America (www.mediamatters.org), a progressive media watchdog and research and information center based in Washington, D.C. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his columns by email.