Bloody images, crude jokes, obscene language, extreme rhetoric—these are becoming part of our daily media diet.
For comedians and commentators in the Trump era, it’s another day at the office.
Sometimes they pay a price, but more often than not they just carry on.
Now the president often mixes it up, especially on Twitter, and sometimes generates controversy. He did it by going after London’s mayor after the latest British terror attack, and by undercutting his Justice Department’s appeal on his travel ban. That, the climate decision and just about everything else is fair game for journalistic scrutiny and criticism.
But then you have CNN host Reza Aslan, who seethed with contempt in a tweet calling Trump “a piece of s***,” a “stain on the presidency” and an “embarrassment to humankind.”
And nothing happened.
Aslan issued the most half-hearted apology imaginable: “I lost my cool and responded to him in a derogatory fashion. ..I should have used better language to express my shock and frustration at the president’s lack of decorum and sympathy for the people of London.” So he doesn't regret the comments, just the cursing.
CNN issued a mild statement saying “such discourse is never appropriate” and noting that Aslan is not an employee. But the network regularly gives him precious airtime, and by the way, Kathy Griffin isn’t an employee either.
Griffin, after CNN dropped her over the bloody Trump mask, changed her tone. Having offered what sounded like a heartfelt apology, she held a tearful news conference, attacked the first family for “trying to ruin my life forever” and said she felt her career was over. How is that the president’s fault for tweeting that she should be ashamed of herself? Didn’t she sabotage her own career?
Stephen Colbert, of course, was not penalized for the crude sex joke he told about Trump and Vladimir Putin, and he surged past Jimmy Fallon in the ratings and won the season.
Bill Maher is skating, too, for using the N-word on his HBO show. No one should ever use that radioactive racial epithet, but Maher did say he was “very sorry” for using the offensive word, and the joke was aimed at himself, not others. Plus, the media quickly moved on because it had nothing to do with Trump.
We seem to be edging into an anything-goes media culture. On MSNBC, anchor Thomas Roberts asked: “Is the president trying to provoke a domestic terror attack with this Twitter rant only to prove himself right?” That’s a pretty serious suggestion. Kellyanne Conway called it “over the top.”
On “Fox & Friends,” Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins suggested without challenge that the British government should round up 3,000 Muslims on a terror watch list and put them in internment camps. Later in the show, co-host Clayton Morris said that “on behalf of the network, I think all of us find that idea reprehensible here at Fox News Channel.”
But these days each transgression and backlash fades into the next. We’re becoming inured to the outrageous.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.