Please spare us the platitudes being thrown at ABC right now. If ABC thought that Roseanne’s highly-rated show could keep its sponsors, her Ambien excuse and faux apology for her “joke” would have been enough. Roseanne was becoming a cash cow. Networks don’t let those go easily.
But first, for those of you who were in a time capsule for the past 24 hours and just got out, here’s what Roseanne tweeted about Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama and an African American woman: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj”.
A few things before we get into ABC’s decision:
1. Inferring that an African American person is ape-like is racist. If Roseanne’s tweet was a joke, then it was a racist joke.
2. There is a difference between Bill Maher comparing Donald Trump to an orangutan and Roseanne comparing Valerie Jarrett to an ape. Why? Only one of the two individuals in question is an African American. Don’t be obtuse.
3. There are no First Amendment implications at play. A First Amendment violation requires state action. ABC and Disney are not state actors. Therefore, they can fire someone for uttering or tweeting a racist comment. Roseanne can make all the racist jokes she want without fear of paying a civil fine or going to jail. However, that doesn’t mean that she is free to make racist jokes without repercussions at her place of employment. Need an example? Go to work and send an email around saying that [insert African American person here] looks like a monkey. Now look at your watch and see how long you keep your job for. This isn’t a slippery slope. Here’s the new societal rule: If you publish something racist and your boss(es) see it, there’s a decent chance you’re getting canned.
Given the above, let’s examine what ABC probably did following Roseanne’s tweet. Some higher-ups at ABC and its parent company, Disney, had a meeting. They discussed what would happen if they fired Roseanne and what would happen if they kept her on.
What would have happened had they kept Roseanne on, you ask? First, almost every member of the talent that comprises the shows that ABC puts on would have tweeted calling for Roseanne’s firing or at the very least condemning her. Then the public would have come after the companies who buy ads on Roseanne’s show. Tweets like, “so you sponsor racism [insert company name here]?” would have been retweeted until the companies pulled their ads. But what if it didn’t stop there? What if the public called on companies to pull their ads from every ABC platform? ABC would have been branded as the television entity that embraces racism, worse than Fox News even. Okay, maybe not worse than Fox News, but you get the point.
That’s the alternate reality to what ended up actually going down. ABC is being seen as having done the right thing, and quickly too. They may have lost a hit show, but they were going to lose that ad revenue anyway once Roseanne’s tweet went viral. And they may have lost even more than just Roseanne’s ad slots. So rather than becoming a pariah and losing money on top of it, ABC realized that they’d get a ton of positive PR from firing someone for making a racist tweet. And they were right. Well played ABC.
So given the above, can we agree Roseanne’s getting fired doesn’t make society any better than it was the day before her tweet? ABC made a business decision. Plain and simple.