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Tasing Rick Sanchez: Jon Stewart's Jokes and CNN's Double Standards

The cool kid bullied the uncool kids in the Stewart/Sanchez affair, while CNN, like a cowed principal, ran from the crossfire.

When CNN fired Rick Sanchez last week for his bumbling comments about Jon Stewart, Jews in the media  and his own bosses, it was treated for the most part as just another Big Media defenestration, like that of Don Imus or Laura Schlessinger, for the sin of giving ethnic offense. But you don’t have to be the mother of a middle-school child to recognize that in fact it was the final result of a public bullying—one that went too far, embarrassed all sides, and, in the process, demonstrated how our political media can be ambushed by their own false equivalencies.

You know, false equivalencies, like: Sanchez saying it’s not only right-wingers who are bigoted but liberal elites like Jon Stewart too. Or Stewart plumping his “equal opportunity offender” status by saying he doesn’t attack the hypocrisies of right-wingers alone but those of the center and left as well. Or CNN firing somebody—faster than you can say “Shirley Sherrod”—for remarks perceived as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel (Sanchez isn’t the first), while dithering for years before dumping Lou Dobbs, who railed against Latino immigrants in terms at least as insulting again and again. Come to think of it, that’s not a false equivalency; it’s an outright double standard, and much worse.

On Good Morning America last week, Sanchez apologized for being “so careless and so inartful” as to suggest that Jews run the media (“That’s not what I meant,” he said, and I believe him) and for “unjustly accus[ing] Jon Stewart of being something he’s not.” He had no one but himself to blame for his troubles. “Rick Sanchez,” he said, “screwed up.”

But amid his mea culpas, Sanchez touched on a few media culpas, concerning news corporations in general and Stewart in particular, that were quickly swept under the rug along with the Cuban-American anchor.

During his job-killing, Sirius XM radio rant, even as he repeatedly called Stewart a bigot, Sanchez analyzed why he was doing so: “That’s what happens when you watch yourself on his show every day, and all they ever do is call you stupid.”

It’s as if he really wanted to call Stewart another two-syllable b-word—bully—but couldn’t, for fear of sounding whiny. He was simultaneously trying to criticize the cable news industry for its dearth of Latino and African-American hosts in prime time, but, with the tongue-twisted displacement that often made him fun to watch, Sanchez managed instead to defame his most prominent tormenter in the same way he feels he has been maligned, as an ethnic stereotype.

No doubt Sanchez has thin skin (even his wife says so), but that’s one of the glaring realities that Stewart never seemed to consider: Not everyone can handle nationally televised and endlessly YouTubed ridicule, and not everyone deserves it. Every time Stewart reran the supposedly hilarious images of Sanchez getting tased five years ago, or mocked him for tripping over his words or emotionally overstressing on camera, Sanchez must have felt like he was getting tased all over again.

This 2007 tape, for instance, starts with the tasing and ends with Sanchez performing another faux-risky stunt—falling a few feet from a small boat in order to demonstrate what it’s like to accidentally fall off a cruise liner (OK, that’s funny). But then, when Sanchez notes that finding someone lost at sea can be like finding a needle in a haystack, Stewart mugs as if it’s the dumbest thing he’s ever heard, which cues the audience to pounce with laughter, Colosseum-style. “Great metaphor,” Stewart says, “to show just how hard it is to find something, only the ocean is way bigger than that!”

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