Roseanne: I'll examine my options to fight back on cancellation

Have fun storming the Disney castle! After first pledging to leave Twitter and later flipping back and forth on whether she wants to defend her comments, Roseanne Barr hinted yesterday at a legal fight over the cancellation of her eponymous series:

The day after ABC pulled the plug on her No. 1 show over a racist tweet, Roseanne Barr returned to Twitter with a vengeance. The embattled comic hinted she may challenge the cancellation, tweeting to her fans Wednesday, “you guys make me feel like fighting back. I will examine all of my options carefully and get back to U [sic].” Barr created a firestorm this week when she posted a tweet likening former Obama White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to an ape.

Barr originally said her tweet about Jarrett was “indefensible” and begged for forgiveness, reports CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers. Then on Wednesday, she insisted what she said wasn’t racist but insensitive, hitting back at critics.

Barr, a prominent supporter of President Trump, retweeted an image questioning why some people think it’s OK to ridicule him as an ape, but not Jarrett.

We’ll get back to that point in a moment, but let’s focus on any hint of a legal challenge to ABC and Disney first. What, exactly, are her “options”? Unless ABC offered her a contract that required them to air her show under any circumstances, Barr won’t have any. As thousands of producers have discovered in the age of television, filming a television show does not grant a right to its publication on someone else’s airwaves. Networks own their own facilities and have the legal and moral right to exercise editorial discretion on how they are used. Certainly those decisions can be criticized, but ABC is under no obligation to air shows that they do not want associated with their network.

Even if there were some legal ambiguity, the decision was hardly arbitrary. ABC and Disney were looking out for their bottom line, Jason Schwartz reports for Politico:

“She’s a pimple on the tushy of The Walt Disney Co., and they lanced it,” said Preston Beckman, a former network executive at NBC and Fox who is now chairman of the Beckman Group LLC.

Beckman said he initially was surprised by the decision to ax “Roseanne,” which had become a huge ratings hit for a network desperately in need of one. “You’re talking about the highest-rated comedy of the new season, I believe. My initial reaction was, ‘Wow, that’s surprising,’ but then you think about it for a minute or two. You think about scale. … Are they going to put the success and the power of the company on protecting her?” …

Disney CEO Robert Iger tweeting, “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” Beckman said that may well have been the case, but added, “ABC did the math.” A boycott campaign might have started with just “Roseanne,” he said, but could have easily spread to the rest of ABC, as well as Disney’s many other properties, including ESPN, the “Star Wars” franchise, and, as he put it, “every fricking superhero movie there is.”

In other words, ABC/Disney responded to potential financial damage by shedding themselves of someone with whom they probably shouldn’t have associated in the first place. Getting cancelled doesn’t make Barr a victim; it’s a consequence of her public speech alienating ABC and potentially its audience. That’s a risk everyone in the public-performance industry runs.

Some on the Right have already begun semi-defenses of Barr based on “double standards” applied in her case, arguing that similar cases didn’t result in terminations. As I argue in my column at The Week, conservatives should refrain from that impulse, in large part because Barr is no friend to conservatives, and in larger part because she’s made a career out of self-destruction:

Just a few years ago, Barr was stumping for Occupy Wall Street, the extremist-progressive commune movement that erupted in the wake of the Great Recession bailouts. At one rally, she proclaimed that both populism and socialism would prevail in America. Barr was also a 9/11 Truther who believed that George W. Bush was behind the terror attacks, and that his father killed JFK as well. Six years ago, she attacked Chik-Fil-A and its customers over its social-conservative leanings, tweeting that “anyone who eats S— Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.”

Not all of the problems are strictly ideological, either. Five years ago, well before the reboot of the TV show was even envisioned, Barr attacked another Obama administration adviser in a similarly racist manner as she did Jarrett. “Susan Rice,” Barr tweeted, “is a man with big swinging ape balls.”

So much for the “one stupid joke” argument. Barr has long exhibited a pattern of unhinged rants, including (as I detail in my column) aimed at me personally. The impulse to rally behind her to score points on the media is misguided, and will not end well for conservatives:

Barr’s long history of bizarre rants and hostility should have taught ABC a lesson about embracing her. This latest eruption should have conservatives thinking twice about it, too. The impulse to defend the indefensible speaks much more to a desperate yearning among conservatives and populists on the right to find celebrity heroes to make into their own, rather than argue for their principles and policies and attract committed conservatives in Hollywood or elsewhere organically. Shortcuts are usually disasters, and in this case an entirely avoidable one.

If Barr wants to hire lawyers to go after Disney, she’ll at least be contributing to the economy. That might in itself convince other outlets to steer clear of her, even if her Twitter rants haven’t already done so. Her best option at this point is to stick with the original apology, wait for a while, and then find an opening for a comeback. If Mel Gibson can do it, anyone can.