Why Martin Bashir's Insult Went Too Far

The MSNC host got personal in trying to call out Sarah Palin's speechifying.

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Former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin speaks at an Oct. 13, 2013, rally supported by military veterans, tea party activists and Republicans regarding the government shutdown.
Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has had an on-and-off stint as a Fox News contributor and is currently promoting her third book. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

"Gracious" is not generally the first word used to describe Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor is deliberately provocative, media savvy and self-promoting (thought those qualities are hardly limited to Palin in the political arena). And she has said some fairly crazy things. But Palin deserves kudos for being remarkably gracious in the face of a horrific personal attack by a TV news show host.

It started when Palin made a truly absurd comment, comparing the national debt to slavery. It was a ridiculous and intellectually lazy comparison, one meant to convey how strongly she felt about the long-term danger of the debt by invoking the most heinous part of America's history. This sort of speechifying is hardly limited to Palin; people in both parties have felt it necessary to compare things to fascism, Nazism, rape and socialism, just to make clear how really, very strongly they feel. But Palin wasn't personal in her remarks.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Sarah Palin.]

MSNBC host Martin Bashir made it personal. He was, appropriately, outraged at the slavery reference, arguing, rightly, that the comment belittled the awful treatment and abuse slaves endured. He went into detail, reading from a journal entry by Thomas Thistlewood, an 18th century plantation worker. Thistlewood described how a slave was punished by having another slave defecate in his mouth.

He could have left it at that – reminding people how offensive it is to compare the treatment of slaves to fiscal policy or pretty much anything. But he went a step further, suggesting that Palin, too, might need to be subject to such treatment. Said Bashir:

When Mrs. Palin invokes slavery, she doesn't just prove her rank ignorance. She confirms if anyone truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood, she would be the outstanding candidate.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

The problem with Bashir's comments (for which he later apologized, on air) is not just how awful and personal they were. It's that he's contributing to exactly the sort of ratcheting-up-the-rhetoric game Palin likes to play. And in this case, he is the worse offender, since her comments were just stupid and insulting in general. His were personally insulting to her.

Palin was rightly appalled, but said she would accept Bashir's apology. She told Fox:

I don't have to accept his words, his vile, evil comments, so they don't have to affect me. I move on and I charge forth.

Let's hope they both do.

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