Randi Rhodes quit Air America last week rather than apologize for calling Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro "fucking whores" in an appearance on behalf of the network in San Francisco (seen here). Immediately thereafter, she took to Larry King to blame Air America's new owners for attempting to change her contract over what she called a "stand-up comedy routine that I did on a Saturday night."
The stand-up comedy defense would be a good one — if only Rhodes were a stand-up comic. But on that Saturday night in San Francisco, Rhodes appeared as a representative of Air America Radio: the station paid for her travel, the station advertised her appearance on their website, and she was billed as "Air America's Randi Rhodes." To suggest that she was anything other than a representative of Air America in the controversial appearance is misleading, to say the least.
Rhodes certainly has the right to free speech — but paid speech is a privilege, a privilege she gave up when calling two prominent American women "fucking whores" at an appearance on behalf of her employer.
Perhaps more disturbing than Rhodes' attempt to spin her departure as a matter of contract rather than one of principle is the hypocrisy underlying her comments. On March 5, 2007, Rhodes blasted Ann Coulter for calling John Edwards a "faggot," calling the comment "stunning," "disgusting," and "unbelievable," and saying, "I have never seen a bunch of Neanderthals like this, gathered in one place, applauding. Sick people." The way Rhodes frames Coulter's comment — "calling a presidential candidate a faggot" — is especially telling in light of her refusal to apologize for calling a presidential candidate a "fucking whore."
Rhodes is one of the most popular, most talented progressive radio hosts in the country. By refusing to apologize for her comments, by refusing to see the parallels between the Coulter comments she found so stunning and her own comments, she lets down the legions of devoted progressive listeners who looked to her for an honest take on the news. And in doing so, she only further strengthens the conservatives she railed against so well — in her job as a radio host, not a stand-up comic — day in and day out.
You might say that Randi Rhodes is no different from Ann Coulter — and in their unapologetic tendency towards controversial hate speech, they are quite similar. But at least Ann Coulter is honest about who and what she works for — book sales, the bottom line — whereas Randi Rhodes attempts to backtrack from her employer-sponsored comments by referring to them as "stand-up comedy."