The pitchfork mob has now set its sights on comedian Norm MacDonald. As MacDonald is known for being irreverent and politically incorrect, it was only a matter of time before he had his turn. His appearance on the Tonight Show was canceled last night amid outcry over comments that allegedly “minimized” sexual assault and racism.
Most of the outrage seems to be centered around two snippets from an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. I will show you the quotes, but prepare yourself. These words and opinions articulated by a comedian were apparently enough to cause several Tonight Show producers to break down in tears:
I’m happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit. It used to be, “One hundred women can’t be lying.” And then it became, “One woman can’t lie.” And that became, “I believe all women.” And then you’re like, “What?” Like, that Chris Hardwick guy I really thought got the blunt end of the stick there.
And then there was this:
Well, Louis [C.K.] and Roseanne [Barr] are the two people I know. And Roseanne was so broken up that I got Louis to call her, even though Roseanne was very hard on Louis before that. But she was just so broken and just crying constantly. There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, “What about the victims?” But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.
Even if he was horribly wrong on both counts here, the outrage would still be absurd. He is just giving his opinion. It used to be possible for someone to give an opinion, even an unpopular one, even a wrong one, without it becoming a national crisis. But that is not how things work anymore.
Now if you commit the crime of giving a unique perspective in public, people will seize hold of it and sift through it looking for the one or two most controversial sentences. Then they will divorce those sentences from their context, searching desperately for the most uncharitable interpretation. There is no attempt to understand the actual point of what was said. There is no engagement or discourse or debate. Speech is treated like a game with arbitrary rules and whoever breaks the rules will be punished regardless of intent.
That is why there’s no use in pointing out — but I will point out — that Norm MacDonald is not actually wrong. His point is eminently reasonable and perfectly clear. Yes, the prevailing attitude in the #MeToo movement is that accusers never lie. And yes, it has created a dangerous environment where guys like Chris Hardwick can have their reputations ruined based on the anonymous accusations of one person. Yes, it’s also true that Roseanne and Louis CK “lost everything in a day.” And, yes, it’s reasonable for a close friend like Norm MacDonald to feel some compassion for them.
The only halfway controversial statement is that “the victims didn’t have to go through that.” A rather undiplomatic thing to say, but is it incorrect? Did Valerie Jarrett (the “victim” of Roseanne’s tweet) have her whole life ruined because of a mean thing someone said about her online? No, clearly not. What about the women who Louis CK sexually harassed? Did they lose everything over it? It would seem likely that they did not. We can talk about the lasting effects those women might be experiencing, but a rational person cannot claim that MacDonald’s point is insane or delusional. He didn’t justify the harassment. He didn’t offer any defense of Louis CK at all. He just observed that the guy paid an extremely steep price — deservedly so, in my view — and, as a friend, he expressed some sympathy because of that.
You may disagree with various elements of MacDonald’s opinion. But there is nothing traumatizing about the opinion. There’s nothing even that startling about it. It’s just an opinion. An opinion with at least some merit. And that’s how any mature adult ought to treat it.