I respect Chelsea Clinton tremendously, and I respect and admire her father beyond what is reasonable. I also admire David Shuster, one of the best reporters working the political scene, and one of the most intelligent and provocative hosts in TV news.
I don't know David Shuster, but you get to know someone a little when you watch him for hours and hours every day. See, I usually have MSNBC on in the background while I write, and Shuster is on that channel a lot. Some days he does anywhere from three to six hours. That's a LOT of live, off-the-cuff talking.
Saying something distasteful in all that time is inevitable. And this week it caught up with him. He said that in having Chelsea Clinton call Elisabeth Hasselbeck and the other View-lociraptors and asking for their support, it seemed like the Clintons were "pimping out" Chelsea.
An off-putting remark, an honest mistake. And he was dealt with, I think, fairly. (Provided his suspension is only a week or two.)
But while saying something stupid is inevitable, punishment is apparently not.
Rush Limbaugh has escaped all penalties, despite abhorrent acts like mocking Michael J. Fox and saying a black guest should "take the bone out of his nose." On his very short-lived TV talk show, Limbaugh literally introduced a picture of a dog as a picture of Chelsea. Last I checked, he's still got a job.
Bill O'Reilly has, among other things, denied any vets are homeless, then said that if they are, it's their own fault they're homeless. He also claimed the Nazis were the victims at Malmady. I mean, come on!
There isn't time to go through all his misstatements and slurs, much less to add in a racist like Glenn Beck or a killer like Nancy Grace or a xenophobe like Lou Dobbs or a moron like Sean Hannity or whatever the hell Ann Coulter is.
These folks all seem to skate through, governed by different rules than the rest of us.
But the difference between them and David Shuster? David Shuster works for NBC news... which is an actual news operation with actual integrity. As I say, I don't know David Shuster, but I "know him" well enough to know he didn't mean what he said about Chelsea Clinton in the literal sense. And his bosses know that, too. Still, at a real news organization, there has to be a consequence. A brief suspension would be a fair punishment.
But let's not go crazy. It is simply not possible to speak freely for hours at a time on television if you have to watch every bit of slang you use. I admit that when I've used the phrase "pimping out" I was not remotely associating it with actual pimps. But now I know I should.
Language is a fluid thing. That was driven home to me this past week, when I heard anchors and reporters saying that "Hillary Clinton loaned her campaign five million dollars." When I was a kid, saying you "loaned" somebody something was a good way to end up writing "lent" over and over on the blackboard. In the eons since then, "loaned" has found its way into the language and been legitimized. That's the way language works.
But for some phrases, it's easy to forget that they have other meanings. Meanings that other people haven't forgotten. When I heard Dan Rather say that CBS had "tarted up" the news, it never dawned on me that some would focus on "tart" and consider it a slam on Katie Couric. But boy, they did. Similarly, I am fairly certain that Ross Perot, when he spoke to the NAACP, used "you people" in the same way he would use it when speaking to the NRA or the DAR or KFC. But the NAACP audience still attached a meaning to that phrase that Perot did not.
I guess this is a long way of saying that it's easy to make this kind of mistake, and you have to look at a person's whole career before you start lighting torches and waving pitchforks.
And before you judge David Shuster, if you think you would never say something racist or offensive, ask yourself if you've ever used the phrases "white trash" or "hillbilly." Think about how many times you've said "What a gyp." And then ask one of the Roma how they feel about that.
And the next time you make fun of Ryan Seacrest, ask yourself if you could do as many live hours as he does, so far without -- knock wood -- screwing up.
And one more thing: If asking Elisabeth Hasselbeck for her support cannot be compared to prostitution, then please tell me what the appropriate comparison is.