What a difference the target of a nasty insult makes.
Take the seismic reaction against radio talker Don Imus two years ago when he called some Rutgers University basketball players “nappy headed hos.” All the apologizing and kissing up to the Rev. Al Sharpton couldn’t prevent Imus from losing his job and becoming the poster boy for ugly/racist/sexist commentaries.
The imbroglio dragged on for weeks, and Imus’ career nearly ended.
But when “The Late Show’s” David Letterman insulted Gov. Sarah Palin’s teen daughter during a humor-free comedy bit last week, the fallout was quite different. Letterman quipped about a faux incident which occurred during Palin’s recent visit to New York City.
"One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."
Letterman claims the joke referenced 18-year-old Bristol Palin, but it was 14-year-old Willow Palin who joined her mother at the new Yankee Stadium.
The two examples aren’t apples and apples. But both feature young women who never asked for the spotlight but got blasted all the same by broadcasters who should have known better.
The media frenzy surrounding Imus’ comments instantly took on a life of its own, but the same media couldn’t be bothered to pick up the Palin/Letterman feud at first. And when it did, it circled the wagons not around Palin but Letterman.
Blame the victim is the mantra when the target of abuse hails from the right.
It was the governor’s fault for stretching out the controversy, according to blogger James Hibberd at The Hollywood Reporter, calling Palin‘s response “ … an opportunistic overreaction that would seem more damaging to her teen’s self-esteem than the original joke,”
“The Today Show’s” Matt Lauer may have said the unintentionally funniest line of all, when he claimed Letterman already was suffering from the fallout of the joke.
Really? The AP begs to differ. AP television reporter David Bauder went so far as to suggest the incident could help Letterman become “relevant” again. That wasn’t the argument in question when the 60-something Imus shot his mouth off.
Even SiriusXM radio personality Howard Stern jumped into the Letterman/Palin fray, siding with his long-time pal Letterman and blasting away at the governor for being both dumb and deserving of such assaults.
We expect that kind of crass feedback from the self-proclaimed King of All Media, a talker who never met a cultural line he didn‘t want to cross. But why were other journalists so unwilling to dig into the story?
The answer is obvious, but it still threw media watcher Howard Kurtz of CNN and The Washington Post for a loop. He appeared confused as to why his fellow journalists didn’t latch onto the story more quickly.
And Kurtz is the biggest media watchdog in the country?
All you had to do is watch the dustup between conservative talk show host John Ziegler and MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer to find the answers Kurtz found so elusive. The latter saw nothing wrong with Palin being called “slutty,“ as Letterman labeled her in the less offensive part of the routine in question.
When the target of a slur falls within a liberally accepted group — a Democrat or a minority member, for example — then the media maelstrom surrounding the initial comment lingers for days, if not weeks.
The outrage builds like a snowball heading down a ski mountain. By the time it reaches the ground, it’s bigger than anyone could have expected.
The current outrage alert system doesn’t protect people like the Palins. But the governor and a few other conservatives are trying to change that. And they’re making more progress than one might expect.
So far, Letterman has issued not one but two apologies. The first one came out as utterly insincere, but its sequel had some emotion behind it. An industry legend like Letterman wouldn’t trot out a second apology without reason. He clearly feels imperiled to some degree and wants to stop the Palin momentum in its tracks.
A reasonable argument could be made that Palin went too far with her reaction. But if she had kept quiet, the matter would have disappeared. And Letterman would have had no reason to squelch his next ugly assault on people with whom he disagrees.
And Imus’ apology tour could have, and perhaps should have, ended his troubles then and there.
Palin simply played the media spin game, a game the Left has all but mastered. But that was before the rise of the Internet, of talk radio and Fox News.
Now, enough forums exist for wounded conservative targets to not only lick their wounds in public but start striking back.