Media suspensions have always fascinated me. In four decades of broadcasting, I’ve seen people benched for offenses large and small, and I’ve usually found the suspensions are not so much a sincere reflection of an employer’s genuinely wounded sensibilities, but rather a positioning statement designed to send a message to the general public.
So against that backdrop, I watched with interest the dispatching this week of two conservative TV figures with fervent fan bases.
The first was Tomi Lahren, who exploded onto the media landscape last year from her outpost at TheBlaze, Glenn Beck’s multimedia empire. Sharp, rapid-fire conservatism from a woman under 25 fueled her rocket ride to Facebook stardom, expanding into a TV presence that was starting to spread well beyond her own show (which, full disclosure, I have appeared on twice).
Guest segments on Fox News added to her marketplace impact, leading to an invitation from The View, the ABC daytime talk show that usually attracts viral attention for liberal tirades by co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar.
I broadly encourage conservative participation in left-leaning shows. It is good for such invitations to be issued, and useful for them to be accepted, yielding an opportunity for our side to be heard in dominantly foreign land. One condition: conservatives accepting such overtures should be skilled communicators who help the cause. This does not always happen.
But on paper, Tomi joining the ladies of The View seemed like a good idea, and in fact, she was knocking several points out of the park, when, with less than a minute left in the segment, she was asked about being pro-choice.
That might have come as a surprise to some. While she had not spent a lot of time forwarding pro-life views on her Blaze show, she had famously referred to some feminists as “sounding like straight-up baby killers.”
But on the View panel, now containing a less noxious mix of hosts featuring the eminently likeable Paula Faris, Tomi chose to spout one of the most logically bereft index cards of pro-choice dogma—that protecting the unborn is somehow a disconnect from the conservative instinct for less government in our lives. “I’m pro-choice, and here’s why,” she said. “I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies… so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”
When these words hit Beck’s ears, her show vanished. For a week, we are told.
A week? What’s she supposed to do? Rethink? Come back chastened and suddenly awakened to the fact that conservative governance properly includes saving babies’ lives in the womb? Would anyone believe her conversion?
The fact of the matter is that Beck has a pro-choicer on the staff, and that’s not likely to change with this peculiar banishment. He has now gone to some length to assert that he has employed pro-choicers in the past and has no litmus test for lock-step ideology as a condition for employment.
Then why is she gone? Is it because she offered up the logical fallacy that a desire for smaller government requires abortion rights advocacy? Would she be in less trouble if she had simply shared the ghoulish pro-choice mantra that the fetus is not really deserving of such protection?
Tomi’s pro-choice-ness is either permissible at TheBlaze or it is not. If it is, her suspension makes no sense. If it is not, she should have been fired immediately. But that would have sparked waves of negative reaction, so maybe this is a window-dressing scolding, designed to exact a pound of her professional flesh, thus quelling the recoil of pro-life viewers.
This is why most suspensions are Kabuki Theater, far better to deliver consequences based on actual audience reaction. If her View moment causes mass audience defections, let her go. If not, leave her alone.
Or, here’s the best idea yet, which occurs to me as a result of my last guest appearance on her show:
The strongest evidence of Beck’s praiseworthy tolerance for dissonant views on his shows is Tomi’s fervent support for Trump, whom her boss rarely missed an opportunity to mock. In an appearance during the election home stretch, we were discussing the NeverTrump movement, which always struck me, as an exercise driven primarily by self-absorption-- the inability of some conservatives to grasp that voters favored a style of governance they did not like.
I had barely finished my answer to Tomi’s question on that topic when a figure appeared from the backstage shadows and walked to my shoulder. It was Glenn Beck, seeking a moment to share his view that NeverTrump had a worthier basis than I had assigned.
Always aware of being a guest in someone else’s house, I replied that any movement could contain motivations of many types. We smiled and he left.
That was weird, I thought and wonderful. I am a fan of unpredictable moments, and if he was watching the feed down the hall and simply had to jump in with his two cents, I was pleased to have been the catalyst for some memorable television.
So how about this? Glenn should sit in with Tomi on her show, to share his precise misgivings about her remarks on The View. She could then either double down, nod in acquiescence, or agree to reflect further. In any event, the result would be compelling rather than confounding, with everyone’s cards on the table, and the young lady’s show intact rather than shelved for a pointless week of limbo.
Meanwhile, over at Fox, it will apparently be a while before we see Judge Nap. Again, one wonders if the Fox bosses were truly mortified by his willingness to traffic in a wiretap conspiracy theory, or if they are just posturing to avoid the blowback from tolerating such narratives in the rollercoaster Trump era.
Andrew Napolitano’s libertarianism and judicial background have informed his decade of service on Fox radio and TV shows. His views have been an important feature of the Fox palette, among the muscular red-meat conservatism of Sean Hannity, the “no-spin” above-it-all countenance of Bill O’Reilly and a cadre of right-of-center analysts.
But on March 16, he made a reach designed to attach credibility to the President Trump’s insistent but as yet unsubstantiated charge that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower: "He used GCHQ. What is that? It's the initials for the British intelligence-finding agency," he said. "They have 24/7 access to the NSA database…So, simply by having two people saying to them, ‘President Obama needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump's conversations, involving President-elect Trump, he’s able to get it and there's no American fingerprints on this."
This did not sit well with actual British Intelligence, and it earned some distancing from Fox colleagues on the air. Bill O’Reilly lamented that the unsupported wiretap assertion was broadly harmful to the Trump agenda, while Shepard Smith took it upon himself to serve as the network PR department: "Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary," he proclaimed with furrowed gravity. "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop."
Ooh, “Full stop.” Shep’s not kidding around.
But maybe Shep and Fox management need to know that we do not need the network to microscopically vet every morsel that issues from every analyst’s mouth, hour by hour.
Crazy me, I’m happy to watch segments on the fly, evaluating the assertions as I hear them. As for Judge Nap himself, I find him to be inspiringly correct on many occasions and substantially off base on others. I am somehow able to navigate these varied waters without an accompanying real-time thumbs-up or down from network bosses.
I don’t invest in the British wiretap complicity theory, but nor do I think Napolitano should have been shelved for floating it. If it has suddenly become a dismissible offense to share a view without instantly attached evidence, many network news hallways would be falling silent.
So again, we are left to wonder: Why did Judge Nap have to be thrown under the bus? And again, my favorite solution would have been a cleansing exercise we all could have watched—the Judge, appearing on a show, explaining his assertion, met with some compelling skepticism from, say, O’Reilly. Then everybody gets on with his or her lives.
The result: Fox would get credit for allowing a wide panoply of views in these odd times, addressing the edgier ones with frank and open discussion rather than the weasel option of suspension.