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Let The Punishment Fit The Crime

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May I be so bold as to propose that there are worse things in the world than a racist tweet.  I do not defend a racist tweet; I am not saying it is a good thing.  What I am saying is that words on Twitter – ugly, distasteful, wrongheaded and nasty though they may be are still just words. Insulting words, at their very worst, cause emotional pain but they are not beating, lynching, enslaving or genocide.  It used to be that insults, no matter how heinous, could only alter the life of their target if their target allowed them to.  But nowadays it seems like words can change the lives of literally hundreds of people.

Punishing words in our country is a loaded topic.  We have right to free speech, but not an inconsequential right.  The right is not absolute, noting the old cliché, “You cannot yell ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater.”  The Bible is full of admonitions about “minding our tongues.”  But it is also clear that when we lose control of our speech, we are the ones that suffer because of the rot in our soul that is reflected by such speech.  The Bible does not say we will be punished for our speech, simply that we will suffer for it if it is out of line.

Which brings me to Roseanne Barr, the TV show in which she plays the central character, her ugly tweet and the shows subsequent cancellation.

Should Ms. Barr suffer?  Well, I think she probably is – it takes a troubled soul to tweet like that to begin with.  Should she have professional repercussions for her tweet?  Sure.  If you do something through word or deed that makes your employer look bad, that employer is certainly wise to act.  But should the show have been cancelled?

Here’s the thing.  A TV show takes hundreds of people to produce.  Shows are produced by a production company, in this case Carsey-Werner Productions.  They make the show and sell it to the network or other distributor.  The production company hires actors, writers, directors, camera persons, set persons, make-up persons, editors, lighting technicians, sound specialists, and on-and-on it goes.  A TV show is much bigger than its primary “star.”  As Tom Werner, one of the big chiefs at Carsey-Werner said in the Hollywood Reporter story linked previously, “It represented the work of hundreds of talented people.”

When the show was cancelled it is not just Roseanne Barr suffering the consequences.  All of those people are gig workers anyway and a steady show with decent ratings is a blessing.  They can plan ahead a little, accumulate some savings, etc.  Why should they suffer for the actions of an idiot like Roseanne Barr?

Some think the shows ratings would have tanked without Ms. Barr anyway.  I am not so sure about that.  They could kill her character off and still have a pretty interesting show.  It has happened before.  (For the record, I have never watched it – either originally or in its revival.  But, “Cheers” managed Diane’s departure just fine and “NCIS” has seen virtually the entire cast changeover just to name a couple.)   Werner said, “I support ABC’s decision to cancel the show….”  I find that fascinating.  After all, the cancellation takes money right out of his pocket and forces him to lay off some employees – innocent employees.

One begins to think Ms. Barr’s tweet, heinous as it was, is more excuse than reason, at least when it comes to the cancellation.  To the public view, no other options were explored.  There seems to be more at play than a simple desire to bring consequences to bear on a person who acted quite clearly out-of-line.  Hundreds of people should not have to suffer for her actions.

Ms. Barr was wrong.  But I think ABC, and it looks like Carsey-Werner too, are pretty wrong as well.  They are forcing “hundreds of talented people” to unjustly suffer consequences for things they had no part in nor control over.  Maybe the show would collapse without Ms. Barr, but I think that justice demands that question be carefully explored before cavalierly doing away with so many people’s livelihoods.

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