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Rosie’s 'right' to be an idiot on the air

Adubato: While I personally find her on-air antics disgraceful, disgusting and unbelievably insensitive, as a journalist I feel some responsibility to challenge other broadcasters who call for her firing.  My sense is that we have some responsibility to each other. 
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I have been talking about Rosie O’Donnell on MSNBC for months.  So have a lot of other people in the media. Rosie never disappoints.  She is great copy; she is outrageous; she is out of control and will say things either on “The View” or on her blog that you have to see and hear to believe. 

Most recently Rosie questioned the 15 British sailors who had been taken in by Iran.  She blogged, “The British did it on purpose.  Into Iranian waters as U.S. military build up on the Iranian border.  We will be in Iran before summer as planned.”  And then on March 26th edition of “The View,” Rosie offered this gem—“But interesting with the British sailors, there were 15 British sailors and Marines who apparently went into Iranian waters and they were seized by the Iranians.  And I have one thing to say: Gulf of Tonkin.  Google it.  Okay.”  I might have missed it, but apparently Rosie has picked up an advanced degree in her spare time in International and Military Affairs.

And how’s this?  Her conspiracy theory on what happened on 9/11 and the potential role the U.S. played in this horrific tragedy.  This is Rosie on “The View” from March 29: “I do believe the first time in history a fire has ever melted steel.  I do believe that it defies physics for World Trade Center Tower Seven, building seven, which collapsed in on itself, it is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved, World Trade Center Seven.  World Trade Center One and Two got hit by planes.  Seven, miraculously, for the first time in history, steel was melted by fire.  It is physically impossible.”  Rosie is then asked by Elizabeth Hasselbeck, one of the few meek conservatives on television these days, “And who do you think is responsible for that?”  A clueless Rosie responds, “I have no idea.  But to say that we don’t know it was imploded, that there was implosion in the demolition, is beyond ignorant.  Look at the film.  Get a physics expert here from Yale, from Harvard.  Pick the school.  It defies reason.” 

These are just two of Rosie’s greatest hits from “The View” and her personal blog.  She has absolutely every right to say off the wall, outrageous and nutty things on the air, and definitely on her blog.  Yet, it is also unconscionable that she offers little if no evidence to support her wacky claims and her employers at ABC let her get away with it. 

Further, Barbara Walters, a giant in the broadcasting industry who created “The View,” owns half of it, and serves as executive producer, has apparently rolled over for Rosie allowing her to run roughshod on the program.   She’s not the moderator of it; she’s the “bully in charge.”  I guess that’s what 600,000 new viewers to “The View” will do for you.  Rosie gets away with it when others in our industry couldn’t dream of it.  ABC let Bill Maher go a few years ago when he said something about the 9/11 terrorists being “courageous.”  The ending was swift.  No debate.  No discussion.  Maher was gone.  One wonders if Bill Maher had Rosie O’Donnell’s ratings if ABC would have been so quick to act? 

But here is the funny thing about Rosie.  While I personally find her on-air antics disgraceful, disgusting and unbelievably insensitive, as a journalist I feel some responsibility to challenge other broadcasters who call for her firing.  My sense is that we have some responsibility to each other.  It is a responsibility to challenge, criticize and question the on-air punditry of our colleagues while protecting their right to say extremely controversial things on the air. 

For some, this may sound like a contradiction, but if you truly believe in the Constitution and the right of free speech, the argument makes sense.  Yes, with the right of free speech comes a whole set of responsibilities (which obviously Rosie ignores) but it is not my place or the place of any broadcaster to demand a resignation.  Bill O’Reilly has implied that he believes Rosie must go for her on-air rants.  Further, my good friend and MSNBC colleague Joe Scarborough is more direct about Rosie going.  In fact, the two of us debated this issue on April 2s “Scarborough Country.”  I respect Joe’s opinion, but I think he is wrong on this. 

As for O’Reilly, he is being intellectually dishonest and unlike Joe Scarborough (who said on his show he would call for the firing of any broadcaster he felt went as far over the line as Rosie has), is ideologically and politically motivated in his blasting of Rosie O’Donnell.  O’Reilly goes crazy over Rosie’s comments, but gives a pass to the Ann Coulter’s of the world who say things at least as offensive as what Rosie says.  When Ann Coulter said that 9/11 widows were somehow happy to have lost their husbands because now they can become rich and famous, O’Reilly not only didn’t call for newspapers to drop Coulter’s column or publishers to stop putting out her books or people to boycott her, he did the opposite.  He had Coulter on his program, he coddled her, he joked with her and he never seriously challenged her.  He never exposed the vile and unbelievably distasteful things she said about women who lost their husbands and whose children are now without fathers.  O’Reilly never touched it.  Why?  Because Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly are ideologically not that far apart and both can be extremely obnoxious in the process. 

Yet, I would defend and protect their right and the right of any fellow broadcaster to say what they want on the air.  And if I disagree or think they are being irresponsible, it is my job to challenge and question them.  It is the job of their employer to decide their professional fate.  Once we abandon this approach, the slope gets very slippery.  It’s a slope I’m not comfortable being on and one that no broadcaster—regardless of his or her politics or opinions—should trifle with, even in the case of Rosie O’Donnell.

Write to Steve Adubato at