The Double Standard
Somewhere, Tex Antoine is rolling in his grave.
New Yorkers of a certain age remember Mr. Antoine as a popular TV weatherman, first at WNBC-TV, and in the later stages of his career, at WABC. He was part of the original "Eyewitness News" team at Channel 7 that achieved phenomenal popularity--and ratings gold--in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Using a "happy talk" approach to the news, members of the Channel 7 news team were encouraged to ad lib on camera, offering their own one-liners in response to the day's events. Mr. Antoine, a broadcast veteran who got his start as an NBC page, was always quick with a quip, and one evening in late November 1976, it ended his career.
Leading into Antoine's weather segment on the 6 p.m. news, anchor Bill Beutel read a tragic story about the rape of a five-year-old girl. It was an awkward segue under any circumstances, but Antoine (incredibly) found fodder for a joke. "If rape is inevitable," he told stunned viewers, "lie back and enjoy it."
Moments later, an ashen Beutel apologized on the air and his co-anchor, Roger Grimsby, led the 11 o'clock broadcast with an extended apology. Antoine was immediately fired and, except for a brief stint at WNEW-TV, he never held worked in television again. Mr. Antoine died seven years later at the age of 59, a broken man.
More than a quarter-century later, few in the media have suggested that David Letterman be fired for his tasteless joke about Sarah Palin's teenage daughter being "knocked up" during a visit to Yankee Stadium.
Never mind that the talk show host's various "apologies" sound more like efforts to justify his remarks. In his latest mea culpa, delivered during Monday night's broadcast, Letterman said he checked with staffers to ensure that Governor Palin's oldest daughter (Bristol) was "over 18" before delivering his comments. According to Dave's twisted logic, that supposedly excused a punch line about a young woman being raped by by Yankees' star Alex Rodriguez. Making matters worse (if that's actually possible), the daughter present at the stadium that evening was Willow (age 14), and not her older sister.
Sarah Palin has officially accepted Mr. Letterman's latest apology, but she's more charitable than we would be under the same circumstances. Judging by his own words, the late-night king appears is more upset that we didn't get "his joke," and less concerned about its potential impact on the Palin girls--and millions of other young women.
"It's not your fault that it [the joke] was misunderstood, it's my fault," Letterman told his audience. "So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it and I'll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much."
In a just world, David Letterman would now be in the unemployment line, with lots of time to think about his comments. But as an icon of the liberal media, Mr. Letterman doesn't have to worry about being held to same standard as other public figures. In that universe, it's perfectly appropriate to make rape jokes--as long as the targets are the daughters of prominent Republicans. After all, didn't Playboy recently publish a writer's "rape list" of conservative women? That list made it through the magazine's editorial process, and was only pulled after a public outcry.
Way back when, WABC made the right decision when they fired Tex Antoine for his disgusting remarks. But four decades later, a major publication and a television network find it impossibly difficult to apologize for the same type of feckless comments, and punish the offenders. By today's gutter standards of the MSM, Mr. Antoine wasn't a crude misogynist--just a "performer" who was ahead of his time.