The Politically Motivated Selective-Victimhood of Sarah Palin

Karl Frisch

By Karl Frisch

You’ve got to hand it to Fox News contributor Sarah Palin. After all, there aren’t many people who can make news with a single Facebook post. Her status updates are like catnip for journalists and media types.

In a story detailing purported liberal criticism of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel,The Wall Street Journal reported this week that, in a private meeting, Emanuel called plans by liberal groups to run ads targeting conservative Democrats "F-ing retarded."

Following news of the hurtful comment, Palin, the mother of a child with Down syndrome, took to Facebook to demand Emanuel’s firing in a post she titled, "Are You Capable of Decency, Rahm Emanuel?"

The deservedly stern comments of an offended mother or the hypocritical nonsense of a political opportunist?

First, it’s worth noting that Emanuel has apologized for the comment at least twice now. It’s also worth noting that just a few short weeks ago, Palin fretted that we were becoming a nation where we — I’m guessing all the Joe the Plumbers out there — couldn’t use words that were "politically incorrect."

Far from consistent, Palin has exposed herself as someone who deploys selective-victimhood as a politically motivated weapon.

How else can one explain her harsh rebuke of Emanuel and near silence when it comes to eerily similar language used by conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh and her Fox News colleague Glenn Beck?

Last January, during an interview with Mary Lynn Rajskub, a star of Fox Broadcasting Co.’24, Beck laughed at the idea of artwork produced by children with Down syndrome, asking, "What do the paintings of the retarded children go for?" Then there was the time right after the 2008 election when he went after Newsweek over a story on Palin that he found objectionable. Purporting to offer the magazine’s view of the former governor, he played the role of an unnamed Newsweek staffer saying, "When it’s really, truly about Sarah Palin and how stupid, she’s practically retarded. Yes. I think that’s appropriate word to use for Sarah Palin, retarded. I think that’s an… if you would like a retarded person running the State of Alaska, just higgeldy-piggeldy."

So what did Palin, then the newly minted Fox News contributor, have to say about these comments during her first hour-long sit-down interview with Beck?

Nothing. Nada. Crickets.

Responding to the controversy surrounding Palin and Emanuel, Limbaugh said liberals who complained about health care reform "are retards." Sure, El Rushbo went on to say that he was just using the term in "quoting Emanuel," but it wasn’t the first time the language had appeared on his radio program. Almost a year ago, long before the Emanuel gaffe, while discussing the flu, Limbaugh appeared to mock those concerned with the use of such language, saying, "[a]nything you can do to stop it or to arrest it or to retard — sorry — to ‘Special Olympic’ its duration, then it — you should do it."

On Thursday, Limbaugh addressed his controversial comments and suggested that Palin wouldn’t "denounce" him because she "knows I do this kind of" thing. Just four hours later, responding to a request for comment on Limbaugh’s comments by Greg Sargent of Washington Post Co.’s The Plum Line blog, Palin’s spokesperson provided a broad statement saying in part that use of the word constitutes "crude and demeaning name calling."

How long would Palin stand up to radio’s reigning king of radical right-wing vitriol? Not long at all.

The following day on his radio program, Limbaugh told listeners that a Palin representative had called him in a "panic" to explain her criticism. Heaven forbid she should offend Boss Limbaugh.

During the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Palin offered then-Senator Hillary Clinton advice on dealing with the pervasive sexism Clinton faced in the media, saying essentially that she should stop whining.

If Palin can’t be consistent in her criticism, perhaps she should take her own advice.

Other Major Stories

What’s in a name? For Glenn Beck, the answer, it appears, is everything

On Thursday, Beck was revisiting one of his favorite subjects: the hidden history of Barack Obama. Reflecting on how Obama had, as a young man, gone from calling himself Barry to using his given name of Barack, Beck said this:

He chose to use his name Barack for a reason — to identify, not with America — you don’t take the name Barack to identify with America. You take the name Barack to identify with what? Your heritage? The heritage, maybe, of your father in Kenya, who is a radical?

Beck’s history regarding discussions of race speaks for itself. He has said Obama possesses "a deep-seated hatred for white people." Soon after, he defended those remarks, stating once again that, "I think the president is a racist." He has suggested that Obama is seeking to become a "slavemaster." He has pushed the idea that Mexican immigrants want to "reclaim" California and Texas. He called Justice Sonia Sotomayor a "racist" on at least three separate occasions. Beck has portrayed the Democratic health care reform effort as "the beginning of reparations," a theme he has repeated on both his Fox News and radio shows, saying that Obama plans to "settle old racial scores through new social justice." During a discussion of former White House green jobs official Van Jones’ past, he baselessly juxtaposed Jones’ picture with footage from a riot. He hasclaimed that India lacked "flush toilets" and said that the Ganges sounded like "a disease."

All of these examples are from the last year. The deeper you dig, the worse it gets.

And yet, when Media Matters accused Beck of racial insensitivity, he responded indignantly that "nothing could be further from the truth."

"If you don’t see why some people would get upset that you accused the president of adopting his African name in order to repudiate his American identity and connect with his father’s radical Kenyan heritage," wrote Media Matters‘ Simon Maloy yesterday, "then I’m afraid you might be a lost cause."

Indeed, he is — and he’s not interested in being saved. Though he portrays himself as an average Joe just trying to make sense of the world, Beck is actually a wildly successful broadcaster with decades of experience. Everything he does and says is deliberate, and by now, it should be overwhelmingly obvious that he routinely crafts his rhetoric to appeal to the worst impulses in his audience. He insults minorities, and uses racially provocative language and imagery, because he wants to stir resentments among viewers and listeners. There is simply no other way to explain the racially charged content he has made a staple of his work.

Is it any wonder why at least 80 advertisers have fled his Fox News program and civil rights groups have condemned him over his latest comments?

This week’s media columns

This week’s media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert asks what Bill Buckley would say about today’s "conservative journalism"; and Jamison Foser looks at Andew Breitbart and the Vince Foster conspiracists.

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube or sign-up to receive his columns by email.