Earlier today the news broke that CNN contributor Roland Martin will not be appearing on the network indefinitely for what GLAAD perceived to be a homophobic tweet. Despite his personal ideological bent, the reaction from the conservative media was a swift defense of the longtime CNN pundit. But the conservative reaction to Martin’s suspension is no surprise because the conservative movement has long abandoned the left/right divide for a new war front: that between individuals and the media elite.
The Twitter story, taking place on Super Bowl Sunday, has been recounted many times, but for the unacquainted: Martin tends to tweet teasing jokes about sports very often– whether it be his various sports feuds with Touré or his soccer jokes to Piers Morgan. Last Sunday, his tweets were inclined more toward the latter, and he made clear he objected to David Beckham, a soccer player, interrupting his Super Bowl with his underwear. Many, including GLAAD, took the tweets to be an attempt to incite violence against gay men who would find Beckham in his underwear an attractive image. Martin apologized and explained himself: he was actually mocking soccer fans during a football game, not homosexual males. The context of the tweet– one before it with the tag “#superbowl” about actually buying Beckham’s underwear line, and one after mocking Piers Morgan for liking soccer– seems to corroborate Martin’s point, debatable though it might be. After what it called “careful deliberation,” CNN announced today that they would be suspending Martin.
This sparked its own outraged response from many who remembered several offensive comments made by CNN contributors that resulted in no such punishment– most notably Erick Erickson and Dana Loesch, the former for, among other things, threatening to “pull a shotgun” on a census worker and the latter, among still other things, encouraging Marines to urinate on corpses, for America. Naturally, the fact that a comment using the word “ish” in a description of David Beckham appears to pale in comparison to them, resulting in many expressing confusion as to what CNN’s standards really are. Despite appearances, there is a method to the apparent madness of suspending Martin while letting other commentators, most notably the Tea Party wing of CNN (even if Erickson may dispute this) run amok.
This reaction was mostly on the left though; the right, rather than try to take down Martin’s colleagues, reacted with exasperation at the outrage towards Martin. Gay conservative group GOProud founder Christopher Barron defended Martin by noting that he, too, made fun of the same ad. Glenn Beck admitted his distaste for Martin’s comment in general while defending his right to make a joke. “Free Roland Martin!” writes the Daily Caller‘s Jim Treacher, imploring GLAAD to “relax” over Martin’s “stupid” tweets. Newsbusters’ Brent Bozell called the entire ordeal “hilarious” and found the tweets among Martin’s “least offensive.” John Nolte at Big Journalism makes clear that he disagrees ideologically with much of Martin’s opinions, but “the thought of trying to silence him is anathema to everything I believe in.”
As a conservative, Nolte is right that silencing Martin for his tweets is anathema to conservative philosophy, though he argues this point on First Amendment grounds. But beyond the philosophical ideal of pure freedom of expression, the underlying double standard that regulates “elite” correspondents is a fabrication, in many ways, of what conservatives perceive as the “elite left.” The answer to why Martin is punished when Erickson is not is that they belong to two separate classes of pundits– “elite” and “non-elite.” Non-elites are not expected to speak or behave in any particular way. These are categories that conservative philosophy patently rejects, particularly post-neoconservative philosophy inspired by liberatarianism and Palinist populism in equal measure. Much of that rejection comes from a more hearty understanding of freedom of expression, but also from the perpetual feeling that they belong to a permanent second class of thinkers– thinkers that can get away with saying more outrageous comments at the expense of their reputations in the greater media.
This sort of mindset is a relic of the withering “Old Media” empire, and it is not new: the Dan Rathers of the world must have surely squirmed at the idea of Geraldo Rivera ever being taken seriously, the panic that must have swept Newsweek when some gift shop employee with an email list broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Even in the post-internet world, old media has done its best to maintain boundaries that no longer make sense. There are “journalists” and there are “bloggers;” “public intellectuals” and “muckrakers.”
And Martin is only the most recent in a string of apparent media “elites” punished for seeming human, while “non-elites” enjoy much more extensive freedoms. Slate columnist Dave Weigel left his perch at the Washington Post for privately employing the use of, among other epithets, the colorful Nixonian term “ratfucking.” Weigel belonged to a class of people not permitted to speak that way, and was nominally relocated to a class that could. The story is one of the few of its genre that ends well, with Weigel still the best of the hard-nosed reporters at the Washington Post Co. Martin’s story is still incomplete, but falls along similar lines, the difference being that he exposed his own silly language without the help of FishbowlDC.
Conservatives are often quick to argue that the double-standard on what is acceptable in the public discourse is one of ideology. That Martin’s story so acutely defies that– particularly in light of the comments of some of his conservative colleagues– shows that many conservatives can see the game in action but have historically had a hard time identifying the players. In this sense, Martin has the wind at his back– and, perhaps with the support of the conservative media community, CNN may recant and keep a valued and original voice on the airwaves that may just come back with newly-acquired wisdom on where the true divides in media actually lie.
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