On The Inconsistency Of Opprobrium

03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Of all the members of the media to find themselves at the center of attention, it's a little hard to believe that MSNBC's David Shuster has become the flashpoint of ire and controversy. Shuster's been one of the more innocuous reporters on the campaign trail, driving far fewer MediaMatters alerts than many of his ilk - especially some of his colleagues as MSNBC! (Chris Matthews, I'm looking at you!)

But Shuster's the headliner over at David Brock's site, now, having used the word "pimp" in relation to Chelsea Clinton's role in her mother's campaign. To be sure, Shuster has something to answer for - his contention that Chelsea Clinton's involvement in her mother's campaign was somehow unseemly is just dead, flat, wrong. There's nothing that Chelsea's doing now for her mother that political offspring haven't done in the past. George W. Bush's daughters, Jenna and Barbara, spoke at the Republican National Convention. John McCain's daughter Meghan coordinates and contributes to a campaign blog. Chelsea's work is comparatively behind-the-scenes, and in bounds.

In other words, the stronger case against Shuster is the one that can be made on the merits. His analysis of Chelsea Clinton's role was just way off the mark and comparatively unfair. Yet, the world remains fixated on this word, "pimp." And to some, it's going to seem a trifle silly. Fact is, I'll cop right now to using the word "pimp" a good deal - typically, as a slangy way of saying "promote." But I can't let Shuster off the hook that easy. The truth is, I've found myself in front of audiences that I knew wouldn't receive that word well, and I've been cagey enough to avoid using it.

Still, there's a curious calculus at work in the reaction of the Clinton campaign. Perhaps it's just about Chelsea. In her letter to Steve Capus, Clinton mentions that she "will always be a mom first and a public official second." And there's nothing wrong with that. But after what appears to be a call for Shuster to be fired over his remark, Clinton adds, "I would urge you to look at the pattern of behavior on your network that seems to repeatedly lead to this sort of degrading language."

Indeed. What's puzzling is that when it comes to "degrading language," on MSNBC, it's hardly Shuster who deserves to be hung out on a line. In the first place, when you compare this incident to Chris Matthews' sustained period of misogyny and idiocy - his constant harping on the "gender card," his insinuation that Clinton owes her career to her husband's philandering, a season of commentary that brought a protest to his doorstep - Shuster's remark pales in comparison.

Secondly, I doubt that even Hillary Clinton truly believes that Shuster literally meant to suggest that her campaign was turning out her daughter to perform sex acts. Compare that to Roger Stone, a frequent guest of MSNBC's Tucker Carlson (who unfailingly refers to Stone as a "legendary Republican strategist"). Stone's biggest contribution to this election cycle has been the creation of an anti-Hillary group called "Citizen's United Not Timid," whose acronym...well, you can spell. It's the sine qua non of "degrading" language, and unlike Shuster, Stone quite literally means it. What's more, he's proud of it.

None of this excuses Shuster. As I've said before, Chelsea Clinton's role in her mother's campaign is strategic and specific, but entirely fair and above board. Still, the amplification of the opprobrium - and the call for Shuster to lose his livelihood over this - just doesn't seem to fit the crime. The last time Hillary Clinton and Chris Matthews encountered each other publicly, her interactions with Matthews were quite cordial, and to my knowledge, the Clinton campaign has not made a stink over Roger Stone's involvement with the network, despite his grinning, gleeful embrace of the most misogynist of vulgarities.

It's all a bit difficult to figure out. Maybe it's the mom factor. Maybe Shuster threw the straw that finally broke the camel's back. Maybe Clinton only feels comfortable swinging at low-hanging fruit. One thing's for sure, the incident is sure to incline people toward treating Chelsea Clinton with a considerable amount of sympathy. And what's her role been on the campaign trail? Speaking to the democratic superdelegates. And who is it that could decide the nomination?

What can we say? Well played.

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