Glenn Greenwald: Why Did ABC Ignore Roseanne Barr’s Hateful Tweets Against Arabs & Palestinians?

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On Tuesday, ABC canceled its hit show “Roseanne,” after its star, Roseanne Barr, fired off a series of racist comments on Twitter. In one tweet, Roseanne wrote, “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” It was a reference to Valerie Jarrett, longtime adviser to President Obama, who’s African-American. Roseanne also accused billionaire George Soros, who’s Jewish, of being a Nazi collaborator, and attacked Chelsea Clinton. The decision to cancel “Roseanne” was made by Channing Dungey, the first African-American president of a major TV network. The reboot of the hit 1980s sitcom “Roseanne” last year drew huge audiences and praise from President Trump, who once called Roseanne Barr to congratulate her on the show’s success. We speak with Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we spend the rest of the hour with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald of The intercept. We’ll talk about his latest exposé on dog experimentation, as well as Robert Mueller’s probe of President Trump. But we begin with today’s big entertainment news.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, on Tuesday, ABC canceled its hit show Roseanne, after its star, Roseanne Barr, fired off a series of racist comments on Twitter. In one tweet, Roseanne wrote, quote, “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” unquote. It was a reference to Valerie Jarrett, longtime adviser to President Obama who’s African-American. Roseanne also accused billionaire George Soros, who’s Jewish, of being a Nazi collaborator, and attacked Chelsea Clinton.

The decision to cancel Roseanne was made by Channing Dungey, the first African-American president of a major TV network. The reboot of the hit 1980s sitcom Roseanne last year drew huge audiences and praise from President Trump, who once called Roseanne Barr to congratulate her on the show’s success.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald joins us now from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he follows the news in the United States and around the world.

Glenn, you’ve just been tweeting about this up until this moment. Now, Roseanne Barr has been tweeting nonstop for the last—I don’t know how many hours, since she did that initial tweet equating Valerie Jarrett with an ape and being fired by the first African-American woman president of a major broadcast network. Talk about the significance of what’s just taken place. You have been following what Roseanne Barr has been tweeting for years.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So I think we ought to be extremely cautious about awarding any praise whatsoever to anybody at ABC for canceling Roseanne’s show. There is no question at all that what she tweeted is completely in line and perfectly consistent with what she’s been saying and writing and tweeting for many years. ABC had to have known exactly what she thought and the things that she believed when they gave her the show that they gave her.

In fact, I went and looked at—because I remembered that I had a very vitriolic exchange, in fact several of them, with Roseanne several years ago about Israel. She’s become a very fanatical defender of Israel. And in the course of defending Israel, she often spews some of the most grotesque and overt, naked racism against Arabs and Palestinians that you’ll hear from any public figure this side of, say, David Duke. And she deleted a lot of those tweets, but I do remember them because some of the exchanges are still online, in which she was talking about Arabs and Palestinians being inferior, being prone to violence, deserving to be slaughtered and killed.

She had previously said similar things about Susan Rice that she said about Valerie Jarrett. So, obviously her comments yesterday received a lot of attention because she now has a show, and they were so grotesque—just viscerally grotesque and racist to any person with a conscience–that ABC had no choice. But it wasn’t like this was something new for Roseanne. This is stuff that she’s been saying about lots of different groups, including African Americans, but especially Arabs and Palestinians, for a long time. It’s just that Arabs and Palestinians, racism towards them tends to be more acceptable.

I think the other issue is that, you know, there’s a lot of free speech debates now that center around not what the First Amendment is about, which is government restrictions on free speech, but private actors and their freedom to punish people who express ideas that are threatening to their commercial interests. There was a big controversy when Google fired an employee for expressing his views on the inability of women to compete in the workplace. There’s a similar controversy over the NFL now fining and punishing teams whose players kneel in protest of racist police brutality in the national anthem. And now we have this. But, you know, I think that we need to formulate consistent principles about what our views are, but in Roseanne’s case, it was so far over the line of anything decent that I don’t think anyone would think that ABC could do anything but fire her.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, she, I think, had talked about Susan Rice, a former Obama official, compared her to an ape, as well, back in 2013.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. And that’s what I’m saying, is that Roseanne, you know, was the biggest TV star in the 1980s. The show that she created and started—and actually it was pretty revolutionary in American television because it was really the first time that a major television program focused on a working-class family struggling with economic deprivation. There were other shows that did it, like Good Times and even All in the Family, but this was kind of an updated version of how working-class Americans are losing the American dream. And because of her weight issues and lots of other things, it was a pretty revolutionary show, for which she deserves credit.

But in the—so, she’s kind of faded from the American consciousness, but she has been on Twitter and saying the most insane racist things for the last four or five years. And like I said, the only difference is that now people pay more attention to it because ABC gave her a show. But anyone paying any attention to her over the last several years would have known that this is exactly who she is.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Glenn, really, the question in my mind, looking back on it now, is why ABC would even, given the climate, especially the polarized nature of our American society today, consider giving her the show to begin with, knowing, as you say, that history of hers. And especially, it seems, they acted so quickly yesterday. It was within hours of her statements. It made me think, first of all, given the context of the Starbucks day of discussion with their employees about racial bias and the fact that some African-American leaders were instantly talking about possibly boycotting the advertisers on the show, that it was the—what was stunning to me was how quickly ABC moved to cancel the show.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think that Roseanne’s comments, like I said, it wasn’t the kind of racism that’s sort of implicit or dressed up or disguised or in code, the kind that’s acceptable and common in everyday American discourse. I mean, she compared an African-American woman to an ape. So, it was so far over the line that there wasn’t—it was just shocking and visceral to so many people that I do think ABC felt like their brand would be in jeopardy if they continued to be associated with her any longer.

But you’re right. That raises the question of why ABC then was willing to associate themselves with somebody who had a record of saying those things in the past. And I think what their gamble was, was that Roseanne, with her high salary and the success of the show, would kind of tamper down and would hide the things that she really believed.

I also think there’s an important cultural issue here, which is there is a huge part of the country that voted for Trump. I mean, basically half the people who voted—a little less than half—voted for Donald Trump. And there isn’t a lot of representation of those people who support Donald Trump or the Republican Party on television, because the places that the entertainment industry thrives in, which is Los Angeles and New York, tend to be very pro-liberal and pro-Democrat and anti-Republican. So I think ABC thought they were correcting an imbalance and offering representation to people who aren’t often heard from, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do, as long as you’re not giving voice to the worst, most toxic, most racist aspects of that faction, which is exactly what they did when they gave Roseanne Barr a platform.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! can’t view Roseanne Barr’s tweets, because she has had our account blocked for quite some time.

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