When John McCain was asked if it was hypocritical of him to have appeared in a raunchy movie (Wedding Crashers) filled with gratuitous topless scenes after having criticized Hollywood for its marketing of such films, McCain joked: "In Washington, I work with boobs every day." With that carefree quip, McCain's critics were silenced, and the controversy was over before it got started. By contrast, McCain's ideological foes tend to create their own problems.
In a textbook example of "progressives" undermining their own agenda, Air America has suspended its star host Randi Rhodes for telling jokes that generated absolutely no controversy until the network -- two weeks after the now suddenly objectionable comments were made in a stand-up comedy performance -- decided to remove her, at least temporarily, from its airwaves.
At an appearance in San Francisco sponsored by Air America's local affiliate, Rhodes referred to Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro as "fucking whores." It's widely understood that this epithet, delivered in the context of a well-received comedic rant, is what prompted the suspension. But Air America's terse statement on the matter offers no explanation beyond declaring it "does not condone such abusive, ad hominem language by our Hosts."
It's not detectable at this point if Air America honchos believe Rhodes was somehow supposed to have known what she said is punishable. Also unknown is the duration of her suspension. According to New York Daily News reporter David Hinckley, the network is remaining silent for now "to gauge public reaction." How principled.
Ferraro has wasted no time calling for Rhodes to be fired. The former VP candidate told Fox News earlier today, "What did they do with Don Imus when he went after the young black team who was playing basketball with kind of the same language? Treat them both the same...She's coming at me and Hillary in a ... sexist way... To incite people with language like this young woman just did on radio is very, very dangerous because ... some people take this stuff so seriously that it can affect your security."
Understandably, Rhodes is stunned and angry. About her employers she told me: "They are in breach of my contract and have damaged my hard won excellent reputation in the broadcast industry..." Rhodes added she received thank you letters from representatives of Air America, the San Francisco affiliate and sponsors praising her for the performance that now has her in hot water.
Rhodes is scheduled to speak in New York on April 28 with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter at an event sponsored by U.S. Tour of Duty, the nonprofit project I run. It is not yet clear if the popular host will be back to work for Air America by then -- or ever. At a critical moment in its evolution, the network has put itself in an untenable position. Ultimately, does Air America, or does it not, stand for free speech? At this moment, it clearly does not. That's not very progressive.