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MSNBC's silence over Tucker Carlson's remarks

Media Matters, which highlighted Tucker Carlson’s “macho” on-air comments about an incident where he and a friend slammed the head of a man into a stall after Carlson was the recipient of some sort of overture in a mens’ room, has noted that MSNBC hasn’t see a peep about the incident.

Carlson said, “Having sex in a public men’s room is outrageous. It’s also really common. I’ve been bothered in men’s rooms.” Carlson continued, “I’ve been bothered in Georgetown Park,” in Washington, D.C., “when I was in high school.” When Abrams asked how Carlson responded to being “bothered,” as Abrams and Scarborough laughed, Carlson asserted, “I went back with someone I knew and grabbed the guy by the — you know, and grabbed him, and … hit him against the stall with his head, actually.” The laughter continued.

Carlson’s comments, coupled with laughter from Abrams and Scarborough, suggested to viewers that physical violence is an appropriate response to an unwelcome overture. This is dangerous and wrong.

MSNBC has yet to acknowledge Carlson’s comments or address why Abrams and Scarborough laughed while Carlson recounted his actions. Instead, MSNBC has treated Carlson’s comments as a laughing matter, re-airing the portion in which Carlson claimed to have been “bothered,” but omitting the portion in which he seemed to boast of physical assault.

When Don Imus stepped into his own steaming pile after racist comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, Steve Capus, president of NBC News said: “that there have been any number of other comments that have been enormously hurtful to far too many people. And my feeling is that … there should not be a place for that on MSNBC.”

Carlson’s on-air comments suggest the appropriate reaction to an unwelcome pass is grounds for physical assault as retaliation — legitimizing in this case a “gay panic” defense for doing so — why is it that Capus doesn’t make the connection between the silence and tacit endorsement of such violence?

Think about this — Tucker’s defenders seem to ignore the fact that being on the receiving end of unwanted, tacky and inappropriate advances of men is a common experience for many women. Is MSNBC’s silence (and laughter by Abrams and Scarborough) a suggestion that women should mace or give a nice knee to the groin to guys whenever they encounter such advances? Or is it only appropriate when a guy finds his masculinity challenged when he’s come on to in some inappropriate way by a man, and has seemingly no other recourse, such as saying “no thanks” and finding law enforcement to take care of the matter without violence.

Who knows, because the network has chosen to say nothing about what Tucker Carlson has said on the air. As Media Matters noted, someone at the network knows the comments are inflammatory — when the network re-aired the exchange, they left the head-bashing portion of Tucker’s braggadocio out.

Tucker Carlson has said that he’s “pro-gay,” supporting marriage equality, for instance, yet he and his network fail to realize is that the violence that he and his colleagues made light of happens to LGBT citizens all over the country, with their assailants, particularly when it’s a man-on-man encounter, justifying a violence response as a legitimate defense of manhood.

IMHO, it’s not really productive to say Tucker Carlson is a homophobe or a gay-basher. It’s about reminding people like him — who sincerely believe that they are not homophobic — that they are awash in a culture that still tolerates homophobia on many subtle, ingrained levels that seem innocuous in a TV studio, but in fact do affirm violence — and that has consequences.

Tucker and the network should simply acknowledge that his overreaction was inappropriate and foments anti-gay violence. Silence and hoping this will go away is a conscious and mistaken decision on their part that those on-air comments don’t matter. If it was easy for the network to rebuke Imus, certainly this incident shouldn’t cause handwringing over doing the right thing.

Media Matters’ action item is here.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding