NPR Women 'Appalled' at Imus's Palin-On-Your-Lap Joke; It's 'a Tool of Social Control'

It might seem a little shocking to hear two NPR women standing up for Sarah Palin. But on Wednesday's Tell Me More talk show, host Michel Martin and analyst Cokie Roberts took offense at a weeks-old joke on the Imus show on Fox Business about Palin's first Sunday-show interview on Fox News Sunday:

DON IMUS: When you interview her, will she be sitting on your lap?

CHRIS WALLACE: One can only hope.

Roberts was "appalled" and Martin saw in this ribbing a "tool of social control" to put Palin in her place:

MARTIN: You know what I mean? And what's up with that? What's up with that?

ROBERTS: It's appalling. It's just appalling, it really is, you know. It's the last place that men feel that they can just make jokes. They would never make those kinds of jokes about a minority - you'd be in terrible trouble. But you can still make sexist jokes about women and get away with it.

MARTIN: You know, but what's intriguing to me about this exchange is that I think we typically see those kinds of jokes as a tool of social control. Like, that's a way to put you in your place. ‘Who do you think you are, honey? Sit down.’ And, clearly, you know, Fox - obviously, Sarah Palin is a Fox News contributor. They like her. She's on their team, and yet they're still making these kinds of jokes. And I'm just - what is that?

ROBERTS: Being a guy trumps being an ideologue.

Roberts sounded a lot like the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in these statements. Sexism trumps racism.

A look at this segment implied a great deal of female superiority. The first conceit of the segment was to celebrate how women politicians don't have disastrous extramarital affairs like John Edwards or Mark Sanford. Roberts also insisted women are more compassionate: "It's not that the men in Congress don't care about child care and public housing, they care about those things, too, but they're just not high priority items for them." Roberts also went gooey for how great Nancy Pelosi was in the health-care battle:

MARTIN: Can I ask you to put your news analyst hat on? There are those who are speculating now, that one of the reasons this monumental health care overhaul legislation was adopted last week, in part, was that Nancy Pelosi was in the chair - Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve in that role. She was saying that, you know, health care is personal to women.

On the other hand - I mean, you call this group of 17 women serving in the United States Senate the last bastion of bipartisanship, yet none of these, there were no Republican votes for this health care overhaul.

ROBERTS: No, not on this issue. Although, there was some Republican input, particularly in the Senate, and particularly on the part of Republican women, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. But Nancy Pelosi brings all of the attributes of a mother and grandmother into her job as speaker.

You know, I used to say that in terms of covering Congress as a reporter, you know, that the best preparation for it was motherhood, because you did, you know, feel like saying on occasion, I don't care who started it, I'm stopping it. (Martin laughs)

But Pelosi really has the patience of a grandmother, but also the steel of a mother, because she would not let members out of the room until some kind of an agreement was made. And, you know, she's very self-aware that she is doing this as a woman. And she talks about the fact that she broke the marble ceiling in the Congress, reaching that high constitutional office, not just a political office, constitutional office of the speaker. And says that it makes a tremendous difference for women and girls, for her to be in that position.

PS: Informed of the NPR expressions of outrage, Don Imus and Chris Wallace took up the fracas again on Fox Business on Thursday, with more humor:  

IMUS: So you know, that morning that you were on and I asked you you were going to interview Sarah Palin and I said is she going to be sitting on your lap? Here is what I meant by that and I would tell you otherwise, I meant was it going to be a friendly interview.

WALLACE: That's not what you meant at all.

IMUS: It absolutely is.

WALLACE: No.

IMUS: Because I've said that about, I've said that about men guests on other programs and Charles will testify to that.

CHARLES: No, I won't.

WALLACE: You were asking Ricky Martin at the time.

IMUS: No, that's what I meant. Charles was being an a-hole. The point is, you, you assigned a sexual connotation to my remark so I --

WALLACE: I simply was trying to get out of the conversation.

IMUS: Well--

CHARLES: It actually was metaphorical whether or not it would be a pleasant encounter.

IMUS: That's what I meant and Cokie having her mind in the gutter most the time. She's a nice woman by the way, decided to get all--

WALLACE: If you say so.

IMUS: Decided today get herself all hysterical about on on the way to be chroma-keyed in front of some building where she's not really standing, in order to report the news on ABC, or wherever she works now.

WALLACE: And she also put on a coat to stand inside and pretend she was standing outside the Capitol.

ABC and Roberts apologized in 1994 for pretending one night that she was on Capitol Hill when she was actually indoors at the ABC Washington bureau.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis