Much has been said in recent days about the obvious double-standard employed by the left-wing MSNBC cable news channel after host Martin Bashir said that Sarah Palin deserved to be defecated and urinated upon. While he was forced to apologize on the air for his remarks, Bashir has been neither suspended nor fired, unlike actor Alec Baldwin who was suspended for two weeks for allegedly using anti-gay language in a confrontation with a paparazzo.
Perhaps the reason for that disparity is that in terms of media coverage, Bashir’s disgusting comment has received very little attention in the broader journalistic world. While media industry websites and conservative-leaning outlets have been talking about the controversy quite a bit, the self-described “mainstream” media has actually shown little interest in the story, far less attention than they gave to much tamer comments made by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh about a previously obscure Georgetown University law school student named Sandra Fluke in 2012.
It isn’t a perfect comparison considering that Limbaugh has been on the national scene for decades and his audience dwarfs that of Bashir’s. But it’s also true that Palin is a very well-known figure, one with a proven ability to get both critics and fans to follow her statements and actions. Then there’s the actual content of Bashir’s insult; arguably it is one of the most offensive things ever said on television about any person. And rather than it being simply a botched attempt at humor, when you watch the original segment (embedded below), it is quite obvious that the MSNBC host spent quite a bit of time trying to come up with something he knew would be outrageous.
In short, regardless of what one thinks of Palin, this is a story that deserves some coverage, if only because websites need hits and broadcasts need viewers. Certainly it’s not deserving of wall-to-wall attention but then again, Limbaugh’s remarks weren’t either.
According to the Nexis news database, left-leaning journalists clearly thought the attack on Sandra Fluke was worth almost obsessive coverage. By contrast, outside of Fox News Channel, Martin Bashir’s wish for Sarah Palin to engage in forced coprophagia has not earned him much coverage at all.
From the 10 days after Limbaugh made his insult (February 29, 2012 through March 9, 2012), major newspapers mentioned the controversy in 260 separate stories. By contrast, Bashir’s Palin-bashing was mentioned just 8 times in the ten days following his insult (November 15 through November 24).
On television, only FNC was consistent in its coverage. Ten days after Bashir attacked Palin, Fox covered it in 14 separate instances. One year previously, Fox News mentioned the Fluke controversy in 16 different stories. According to Nexis, CNN mentioned Bashir’s insult just twice in the ten days after he bashed Palin. Unsurprisingly, MSNBC and NBC have not mentioned the incident at all.
By contrast, television news was obsessed with going after Limbaugh. CNN mentioned the story on 54 separate occasions. MSNBC covered it 23 times, NBC 13 times, ABC 10 times, and CBS focused on it 8 times. Even the PBS NewsHour, supposed bastion of serious news, decided to mention the controversy twice.
Based on the data, it seems very likely that the primary reason MSNBC hasn’t suspended or fired Bashir is that the rest of the press hasn’t been nearly as interested in forcing the issue the way they were just one year ago with Limbaugh.
It’s a fair question to ask whether or not America has become too sensitive to one-off remarks. But that conversation hasn’t even really begun in the case of Martin Bashir. Journalists who were so quick to attack Limbaugh need to ask themselves why they aren’t willing to hold Bashir accountable for his consistent pattern of using deliberately inflammatory language in a pitiful attempt to save his low-rated show from cancellation.