On Tuesday’s episode of ABC’s The View, Joy Behar used profanity to describe Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle. Ms. Behar said, “She is going to Hell, this B****,” accusing Angle of being a racist for running ads against illegal immigration. In a cheeky retort, Angle sent Behar a bouquet of flowers to thank her, saying that Behar’s rant gave a boost to Angle’s fundraising. Behar did not back down and reiterated that she believes Angle is a racist and again called her a “b****.” Is this a sign that political discourse has hit an all-time low? Here are three examples of recent pundit-vs.-politician battles that have gained national attention.
Perhaps one of the most explosive battles took place between Bill O’Reilly and Rep. Barney Frank. Prior to the housing collapse, Frank was on record as the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, stating that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were “well financed and they’re not in economic trouble.” When O’Reilly pointed out that many people made investment choices based on Frank’s words, the interview turned from a conversation into a heated yelling match. Frank claimed he had said that it wasn’t a good investment and tried to blame it on Republican policies. O’Reilly lost his temper and called Frank’s excuses “B.S.” Neither side won the argument that evening, but currently O’Reilly’s show is still the number one show in its time slot, while Frank is in a competitive re-election bid for what is usually considered a safe seat and easy win for the Democrats.
There has been another, more subtle battle taking place between pundit and politician which may have greater implications for the upcoming 2010 elections. Republican strategist and Fox News contributor Karl Rove was attacked by President Obama, who claimed that Rove’s organization, American Crossroads, was using foreign donations. Rove responded that there were no foreign contributors to his group and that Obama never had any evidence to make such an accusation. In response to the back and forth, American Crossroads received $13 million in the days immediately following Obama’s attacks on Rove, giving the group the ability for raise their 2010 fundraising goals from $50 million to $65 million. In an election year as contentious as this, $13 million may make the difference in turning some Democrat-held seats in Congress over into the hands of the Republicans.
Sometime the battles between pundits and politicians are a little more one-sided. For example, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann didn’t think that then-Massachusetts senatorial candidate Scott Brown was being vetted thoroughly enough by the media. So, on Olbermann’s show, he claimed that Brown was “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees.” The outrage over this comment came from both the left and right and boiled to the point where Olbermann was compelled to apologize. However, his apology was that he forgot to add “sexist” to his tirade. What was Scott Brown’s response? No response needed, because Brown won the battle by winning the Senate seat.
In the Behar vs. Angle scuffle, Behar has backed down slightly. She still believes that Angle is a racist, but she says that she regrets calling Angle a “b****” because she sees that word as a “term of endearment.” Angle, whose fundraising has increased, appears to be winning this battle. Whether or not Angle wins the election will be determined on Nov. 5.