Last week Joy Behar, longtime panelist on The View and daytime television icon, was jeered by a crowd attending the Conservative Political Action Conference. For a liberal chat show cohost like Behar, this is sure to be a badge of honor. She has drawn the ire of conservatives for some time thanks to her disapproval of President George W. Bush and her laser-focused criticism of the current sitting president. But it was her recent crack at the expense of the current vice president that has finally drawn out the self-righteous pitchforks of the right.
It all started when View cohosts were discussing how Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the former White House political aide and recent Celebrity Big Brother contestant, revealed to the Big Brother house that vice president (I can't bring my myself to type his name) believes Jesus speaks to him. Behar drolly joked that this was the equivalent to hearing voices and therefore a sign of mental illness.
Whether this mocking of the VP by Behar was indeed humorous or just plain disrespectful is a matter of opinion, but what is not up for debate is that the vice president has aligned himself with conservative media and thus has completely missed the mark when addressing the faux controversy.
The right has taken this ridiculously snide mental illness remark and has overinflated its importance by unleashing an avalanche of biting articles oozing with outrage. These “stories” have played up Behar’s sound bite for maximum condemnation against the ABC television network (which owns The View) and Joy Behar herself. “Fair and balanced” Fox News alone has covered it 30 times in one week! Similarly, thanks to the conservative media machine, ABC was flooded with over 25,000 complaints in one day over the segment. In one day!
Google “Joy Behar” and “mental illness” and sit back and marvel at how a “scandal” is manufactured.
Like a tired old mangy mutt with a worn-out bone the right is not letting this made-up controversy go. These hate-baiting articles peddle half-truths free of context and are nothing more than propaganda meant solely to incite and inflame their readers/viewers (25,000 calls in one day!).
Curiously, there is little to no mention in the mental illness coverage that includes Behar’s clarification mid-conversation that she doesn’t actually believe Pence is mentally ill. Nor do these articles mention that the discussion that followed was actually a rather interesting, honest, and dare I say it, thoughtful exploration of how and why a person of faith hears Jesus speaking to them.
All jokes aside, if people of faith were fed the entire story, they may have found themselves enjoying a lively, revealing conversation on religion and the power of communicating with the divine. On a mainstream television network like ABC even! Instead there is a concentrated effort from the right-wing media to silence Behar, something that has clearly been created to drum up enough anger to pressure ABC to remove her from the show (25,000 complaints!). ABC, please do not fall for this nefarious effort. Don’t “Kathy Griffin” Joy Behar.
When the anti-Behar train was just leaving the station, the vice president weighed in, openly admitting he hadn’t seen the segment before launching into a rebuke of ABC for being “wrong” in allowing a program like The View to bash and insult people of faith.
Now, I can't claim to know exactly what the VP is thinking (hey, I’m not Jesus), but I can confidently surmise he used this moment to further his agenda. As a seasoned politician, the vice president knows all too well the power of words and the damage certain rhetoric can do. His terse response was a very calculated and targeted attempt to demonize ABC. By making ABC an enemy of those of faith, the current administration has more #fakenews arrows in its quiver.
The VP’s recent comments at CPAC continued to attack ABC and are completely disingenuous and irresponsible for someone in his position. As a vital part of leading the free world and a representative of all Americans, those of faith and those without, he needs to set to the tone on how to deal with those who have views contrary to his own. He’s failed to do so.
As our nation's leading evangelical, the VP completely and totally missed a golden opportunity to reach across party lines. He could have and should have used this moment to be an example of how to engage in political and social discourse in a mature and welcoming manner. Instead, we only got more of the “us versus them” mentality dividing America — a further stoking of the fire and anxiety about a war on religion that doesn’t exist.
Even if the vice president did actually feel disrespected by Behar’s wry remark, he could have used this moment to rise above the controversy, as the person he purports to worships would have most assuredly done. Wasn’t it Jesus Christ himself who admonished his followers to turn the other cheek? How great would it have been for the VP to give a master class on his Christian faith?
Instead he has turned his back on the portion of America who likely laughed at Behar’s joke, while encouraging the continued gnashing of teeth toward ABC and Behar from those who didn’t. He’s fed the Christian keyboard crusaders and encouraged their vile effort to bring the woman down.
Joy Behar and ABC are clearly not enemies of people of faith. Nor do they speak for all those who consider themselves liberals. They are both a small part of our cultural entertainment landscape; they are not responsible for creating or enforcing policy across the nation.
The difference between the vice president speaking his mind as he did and Joy Behar making a joke is simple: The vice president is elected to represent all Americans, while Behar is paid to express her specific thoughts and views on the world. She’s a comic who’s been hired on a chat show both because of her humor and her liberal leanings and her ability to share them, while the VP was elected to defend the rights of all Americans, those who believe as he does and those who openly mock those same beliefs.
Perhaps the conservative news outlets will eventually move on to another target for their ire or, as they have just done a few days ago, launch into yet another tired anti-ABC media blitz against Behar for her recent comment stating that Republicans have a “penchant for Nazis.” (Insert keyboard sigh here.)
We who stand with Joy Behar and everything she represents — bold humor, robust liberal ideals, and a general fearlessness in the face of hard-right fringe hatred — will continue to withstand and speak out against the tiki torch–welding zealots out to silence her. Despite the vice president’s petty efforts to do otherwise.
BRIAN ANDERSEN is a writer and indie comic book creator who lives in San Francisco with his husband and gorgeous baby daughter.