The Disney-owned ABC TV network has axed the hit sitcom reboot Roseanne overnight, somewhat belatedly defining the limits of what is acceptable free speech in Donald Trump’s America.
This comes after the star of the show, Roseanne Barr, tweeted a racist remark against former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”
Jarrett is African American, and was born in Iran. Barr also tweeted offensive comments yesterday about Chelsea Clinton and billionaire hedgefunder George Soros — the latter of whom she accused of being a “Nazi”.
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In a statement, ABC labelled the Jarett tweet “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with out values”. Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger voiced his support for the cancellation, tweeting “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” Network Ten (owned by CBS, the big US rival to ABC and Disney) has now followed suit, pulling the show and stating they are “appalled and disgusted with [her] racist tweet”.
This isn’t the first time that Barr has made racist and derogatory remarks on Twitter, however. She has a history of abusive, racist tweets stretching back to 2013 when she called Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice “a man with big swinging ape balls”.
As recently as last Friday she tweeted in support of Tommy Robinson, a former leader of the far-right English Defence League (whose videos Donald Trump has retweeted). She has also tweeted her support of a conspiracy theory that alleges the involvement of high-profile Democrats and other famous individuals in child sex-trafficking rings (the so-called Pizzagate conspiracy).
Given that background, you have to wonder why Roseanne was ever reborn (aside from the desire to exploit social change and make a lot of money). Barr’s previous comments resonated with the Murdoch-owned Fox News nightly commentaries, and yet the decision to kill the program was made and supported by Disney — which owns ABC, and is in the midst of talks with Fox to split up the Murdoch empire in a US$66 billion deal.
The move signals a reckoning in what is publicly acceptable (and profitable) in US media. On the one hand, there’s the anything goes, pro-Trump/Murdoch approach to the media business. On the other, there’s the Disney/ABC approach where good taste and civility still matter.