Those dastardly Clintonites….

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2004

Many of the British blogs are currently debating whether Charlie Brooker’s joke (or “joke”, depending on your pov) about Presidential assassination was funny, not funny, tasteless, stupid, etc. Michael Brooke , commenting at Harry’s Place offers some much needed context for the benefit of people who’ve never actually held a copy of the Guardian’s listings supplement in their hands.[1]

… it appeared on page 52 of their pocket-sized listings guide, in equally pocket-sized print, in a slot normally occupied by facetious demolitions of TV programmes (which was certainly the spirit in which I read it this morning). Unfortunately, this distinction is somewhat blurred by the more egalitarian online version.

Such attempts to minimize the affair would cut no ice with FrontPage magazine! They begin their coverage thus:

The Left’s campaign of hate and defamation against the American president has hit a new low: a major media organ of the international Left, edited by an associate of Bill Clinton, has called for President Bush’s assassination.

And after foaming at the mouth for a few more paragraphs they finish:

This final American connection lays everything in place: The president’s leftist opponents – foreign and domestic – feel they have a sacred duty to rig elections around the world to their liking. And if their advice is scorned, they have the right to pursue what Clausewitz called “politics by other means”: physical warfare. The development is not a healthy one for democracies on either side of the Atlantic.

fn1. The Guardian’s listings supplement is not just ephemeral, it is, in my experience, almost useless. It is supposed to be regionally sensitive, so that you don’t have to wade through all the Cardiff cinema listings if you live in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the Guardian appears to have a policy of distributing the various editions randomly, so there is very little chance that the one actually on sale locally pertains to that region.

{ 49 comments }

1

Simstim 10.26.04 at 11:19 am

All that UK readers of CT need to know is that Brooker was a co-writer of the infamous Brasseye special on Paedophilia. Oh, and he used to write TVGoHome.

2

Observer 10.26.04 at 12:05 pm

Funny, but Front Page didn’t complain about the eliminationist rhetoric of Sean Hannity, Ann Coutler, Mike Savage and Rush Limbaugh.

Oh well, I guess it’s because Sean, Ann et al don’t get anywhere near the US media coverage that the Guardian listings do.

3

nick paul 10.26.04 at 1:03 pm

assassinate?

mercy killing.

4

jet 10.26.04 at 1:08 pm

observer,
Granted I’ve only listened to 3 of the 4 you mention, and while I think they are over the top in their rhetoric, I find it extremely hard to believe they’ve ever used “eliminationist rhetoric”.

Maybe FrontPage’s rhetoric was over the top, but given what was said, is that so bad? Shouldn’t their be overwhelming revulsion to any call for violence against Democracy?

There can be no natural rights without the rule of law, and people who place partisanship above law are the their own worst enemy.

5

Wili Wáchendon 10.26.04 at 1:17 pm

It was a silly thing to say, and the reaction to it has been even sillier.

Still, don’t underestimate the insight into the Grauniad’s psyche gained by reading some of the pithy comments in the Guide. A while back, in a review of the programme ‘Noam Chomsky Talks To Francine Stock’, it said:

“Noam Chomsky is another one of those people, like Michael Moore, that you wish you could vote for. Instead, you’ll have to settle for listening to his views on the Bush world order. In the past he’s been spot on in unpicking the insanity and machinations of US policy in works such as Manufacturing Consent. Noam! Tell us what to think now!”

inadvertantly revealing who really dictates its editorial line. ;)

6

Peter 10.26.04 at 1:58 pm

How come when some left wing newspaper calls for President Bush’s head, the US media explodes in indignation, but when US right wingers call for President Clinton’s head in an identical fashion, that gets called “humor” or “fraternity hazing?”

Has the word HYPOCRISY been deleted from the dictionary this past week?

7

Don Quijote 10.26.04 at 2:00 pm

Ann Coulter and just one of her rants.
National Review – This Is War We should invade their countries.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.

8

Fedayeen 10.26.04 at 2:06 pm

Ann coulter? This bimbo talks like she has any concept of war. It probably gets her off to talk like that. Rather than invading and killing people how about we just arrest these talking heads under some law or other, then put them in jump suits and let them spend a few months at GITMO, just to give them a taste of their world.

9

Ken Houghton 10.26.04 at 2:22 pm

So it’s the “leftist opponents”–I guess that includes this long-time Republican–who dragged the administration kicking and screaming into “physical warfare” in Iraq after 99.9%+ voted for Saddam in the last Iraqi election?

Or is FrontPage coming out against the invasion of Afghanistan and the(apparently temporary) ousting of the duly-elected Taliban?

10

Nosemonkey 10.26.04 at 2:32 pm

Ann Coulter’s “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton” featured the memorable line “The only question is do we assassinate Clinton or impeach him?”

Don’t recall too much outrage about that, and it was significantly higher profile…

Ho-hum. Can’t expect too much rationality. Everyone’s all het up at the moment.

11

Ginger Yellow 10.26.04 at 2:47 pm

For God’s sake. This is Charlie Brooker we’re talking about, not Rusbridger or Polly Toynbee. Charlie Brooker, whose modus operandi is to be extremely offensive about things he doesn’t like, and be so over the top that you have to laugh. Victor Lewis Smith with a better prose style, if you will. One of his parody TV creations was Westlife Tombspoon Nightmare, in which the Irish boyband would be sealed into a concrete bunker with only blunt spoons for company, in the hope that they would hack each other to death for our amusement. To claim that he is genuinely inciting assassination is to miss the point so completely that it just makes his article funnier.

12

jet 10.26.04 at 2:49 pm

Don Quijote,
Are you argueing that because Ann Coulter has an extreme view on how to prosecute the war, that is the same as a British writer calling for the assassination of Bush. They are nothing alike. And on Sept 13, 2001 (when that piece was written), I was probably saying the same crazy shit she was. And except for converting them to Christianity, the US did exactly what she said, so apparently she isn’t that crazy after all, just a bigoted zealot. But if she were calling for the assassination of Chirac, then we would have some real similararities.

On the other hand, if what is meant by “eliminationist rhetoric” is advocation of killing regardless of context or reason, then I guess Front Page is picking and chosing who to get outraged about. But that would certainly be a pacifist point of view, and if we are going to talk about pacifist, maybe we should discuss Tiebet and how that whole non-violence thing worked out for them. Aren’t the Chinese still putting nuns in prison for 25 years for praying in public and running slave labor camps?

13

jet 10.26.04 at 2:52 pm

Nosemonkey,

I think you proved the point that Front Page is being hypocritical in the extreme.

14

SomeCallMeTim 10.26.04 at 2:55 pm

“Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard.”

Senator Jesse Helms, Nov. 1994

15

Ginger Yellow 10.26.04 at 3:01 pm

For God’s sake. This is Charlie Brooker we’re talking about, not Rusbridger or Polly Toynbee. Charlie Brooker, whose modus operandi is to be extremely offensive about things he doesn’t like, and be so over the top that you have to laugh. Victor Lewis Smith with a better prose style, if you will. One of his parody TV creations was Westlife Tombspoon Nightmare, in which the Irish boyband would be sealed into a concrete bunker with only blunt spoons for company, in the hope that they would hack each other to death for our amusement. To claim that he is genuinely inciting assassination is to miss the point so completely that it just makes his article funnier.

16

jet 10.26.04 at 3:07 pm

I think this is a combination of crazy right wing knee jerking and election year everything but the kitchen sink rhetoric.

Too bad their isn’t a mechanism in society to punish propoganda. I don’t mean legally, just societally. As it stands now, anyone can say anything, and if they are on “your” side, they are cheered on no matter how outlandish.

17

Ray 10.26.04 at 3:19 pm

Breaking news:
John Major did not actually wear his underwear outside his trousers!
Bel Littlejohn isn’t dead!
Cake is harmless!

18

Matt McGrattan 10.26.04 at 4:01 pm

This is just bloody stupid.

As ginger yellow says, Brooker’s whole schtick is to write very nasty and sometimes very funny stuff in which, among other things, he calls for absurdly over-the-top punishment and/or violent death for people who offend him — the humour is in precisely in the absurd over-reaction and even more in the fact that what usually gets him offended is some incredibly trivial TV commercial, Hoxton-fin haircuts, etc.

There’s just something deeply wrong when so many people seem to be unable to tell the difference between someone whose stock in trade is satirically offensive TV listings, for feck’s sake, and a serious commentator.

Brooker has written stuff that potentially offends everyone of more or less any political persuasion and his targets (in the infamous Brasseye paedophile episode, for example) are just as likely to be the lefty ‘liberal’ middle classes as anyone else.

19

junius ponds 10.26.04 at 4:05 pm

“My only regret with Timothy
McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” — Ann Coulter

20

Ginger Yellow 10.26.04 at 4:46 pm

The one good thing about this flap, apart of course from further confirming my prejudices about the cluelessness of Bush supporting rightwingers, is that it’s inspired me to revisit TVGoHome. I’ve hardly done any work all afternoon.

21

dsquared 10.26.04 at 4:50 pm

Hate to rub this in, but the Guardian Guide is really useful if you live in London.

I also think that TV Go Home should now be listed on our blogroll under “political science”.

22

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.26.04 at 4:54 pm

“when US right wingers call for President Clinton’s head in an identical fashion, that gets called “humor” or “fraternity hazing?””

Which popular US newspaper printed something suggesting that it would be appropriate to assassinate President Clinton? When did Rush call for a Clinton assassination? When did Hannity suggest such a thing would be a good idea?

This wasn’t published just anywhere, it was in the Guardian.

You also fail to note that Coulter was fired from the National Review over the language you quote and her response to them for refusing to print it. Should we fail to expect the same level of responsibility from the Guardian?

23

Emma 10.26.04 at 5:03 pm

Sebastian, Senator Helms was a SITTING REPUBLICAN SENATOR when he threatened the President’s life. I didn’t see a single republican sputtering.
So take your umbrage and put it with the rest of your hypocrisies.

24

Ray 10.26.04 at 5:06 pm

“This wasn’t published just anywhere, it was in the Guardian.”

In the TV reviews column, written by a comedian who has previously talked about the upsides to dirty bombs going off in London. How bad must your persecution complex be for you to take this seriously?

25

Patrick 10.26.04 at 5:07 pm

The Left plays “politics by other means?”

Only if you ignore the swing-state Republican efforts to disrupt voting and contest any result they don’t like next week.

None of these Republican jackasses apologize for their insidious characterizations of liberals. So fuck’em. No apologies.

26

Patrick 10.26.04 at 5:09 pm

The Left plays “politics by other means?”

Only if you ignore the swing-state Republican efforts to disrupt voting and contest any result they don’t like next week.

None of these Republican jackasses apologize for their insidious characterizations of liberals. So fuck’em. No apologies.

27

Matt McGrattan 10.26.04 at 5:12 pm

How hard is it to understand that this comment by Brooker was emphatically not in any place in the paper where any sane individual might confuse it with a genuine opinion endorsed by the newspaper?

It wasn’t by a staff writer, an op-ed columnist, or anything remotely like it. It was a throwaway line in a sarcastic and bitchy TV review by a reviewer who regularly makes exactly the same kind of comments about politicians and celebrities on all sides of the political spectrum — British and foreign. The Guardian no more endorsed what he wrote than when he makes similar comments about shit popstars or trendy media figures in hip parts of east London.

It’s gross misrepresentation to claim that the Guardian has somehow sanctioned calls for the assassination of G.W. Bush.

I read Brooker’s column at the weekend and didn’t even notice the Bush-must-die comment as it’s just the usual kind of thing that Brooker does and has does hundreds of times before.

28

JRoth 10.26.04 at 5:35 pm

It baffles me how Sebastian seamlessly mixes thoughtful comments on some threads with mindless hackery like this on others.

Ann Coulter may have lost one (1) gig as a result of the quote about genocide, but she continues to appear on countless TV shows, as well as to publish widely-distributed (if not -purchased) books. She has in no way been marginalized. Furthermore, she plainly did discuss the assassination of Clinton in ironic, but far from satiric, terms. Yet Seb pretends that this simply didn’t happen.

Furthermore, here is what Rush has said about 30-50% of Americans:

“We don’t want to get rid of all liberals. I want to keep a couple, for example, on every major U.S. college campus so that we never forget who these people are.”

This is elminationist rhetoric, loud and clear. There is no hedging, no satire. Rush, of course, would insist that it’s a joke, but I’d like someone to explain the punchline in this statement. “never forget” – think about the implication of that. This is a man who is welcomed to the White House, on NBC, and who speaks to tens of millions every week, including our military overseas.

As for Hannity and Savage, their very book titles equate liberals and Democrats with America’s enemies. Not Republicans’, but Americans’. Think about this. Or are you too desperate to score partisan points off of some yahoo satirist to see how far your side is willing to take things.

Well, we know one thing about you, Sebastian. If the trains start rolling, you won’t raise your head, except perhaps to point out some neighbor who has questioned the dominant order.

29

Sam 10.26.04 at 6:25 pm

How hard is it to understand that this comment by Brooker was emphatically not in any place in the paper where any sane individual might confuse it with a genuine opinion endorsed by the newspaper?

This is useful and reassuring to know. I can say that I saw the quote (as I would suppose most Ameicans did) online, by following a link–so it was not at all clear where in the paper it was.

30

abb1 10.26.04 at 6:39 pm

What goes around comes around: there has been so much ‘tough talk’ and specifically about killing various people during the last 3 years that, I guess, it’s become acceptable. If the paltry Gulf I war produced McVeigh, I wonder what kind of ugliness this one will create.

31

jif 10.26.04 at 7:16 pm

Uhm, “the International left”?

Bwah, ha, ha, ha!

32

pox on all 10.26.04 at 7:47 pm

Can we all agree that Rush, Hannity, and Coulter are hateful idiots? Good. So stipulated.

Now let’s quit with the diversions.

If on the same page, in the same font, the message had not been “killing George Bush is kinda funny and a good thing” but something like “God I hate dirty niggers,” then everyone who is DEFENDING the “joke” would be up in arms, and vice-versa. It’s all about whose ox is getting gored.

33

mona 10.26.04 at 8:09 pm

To claim that he is genuinely inciting assassination is to miss the point so completely that it just makes his article funnier.

Or as someone else put it:

It’s also worth pointing out that as with all Charlie Brooker/Chris Morris work (although the great man himself probably wasn’t involved here), the more fuss that people make about the piece, the funnier the whole affair becomes. Which scientifically proves that the article is, indeed, funny.

In a way that’s also what happened with that infamous Brasseye special. One of the most hilarious things in it was the celebrities convinced they’d been recruited for some real campaign against paedophiles. FrontPage here are treading very similar ground as Phil Collins wearing that “Nonce Sense” t-shirt, only they don’t even get to realise it.

34

dsquared 10.26.04 at 8:13 pm

If on the same page, in the same font, the message had not been “killing George Bush is kinda funny and a good thing” but something like “God I hate dirty niggers,”

Brooker’s done this one, way before you.

35

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.26.04 at 9:13 pm

“Well, we know one thing about you, Sebastian. If the trains start rolling, you won’t raise your head, except perhaps to point out some neighbor who has questioned the dominant order.”

That isn’t a joke right? I’m not good at recognizing them so I have to ask.

I don’t defend Ann Coulter. And as I mentioned, she was fired from the National Review over the comments in question. I don’t see exactly what more you want. Which is especially ‘funny’ because you clearly want more to happen to Coulter, while you want the consequence of Brooker’s alleged ‘joke’ to be precisely zero.

And hell, I’m not even asking that he be fired. I would love a mere acknowledgement that he crossed the line and that the comment should never have been published in the Guardian. Instead we have people defending his statement as if it were the most natural thing to say. Which I fully suspect in your circles it would be. Which, I suppose, is good for me to know.

36

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.26.04 at 9:18 pm

BTW, isn’t it just a little weird that you try to defend Brooker by comparing him to people that you think should be driven away from having a public voice?

I would never try to defend a conservative by saying that he says things that are as crazy as Chomsky.

37

Matt McGrattan 10.26.04 at 9:45 pm

Personally, there’s no need to defend Brooker by comparing him to anyone (whether or not I approve or disapprove of their personal politics).

Brooker’s comment was just a typical comment in the context of his usual confrontational, sarcastic TV review. As I’ve already mentioned, he’s an equal opportunity abuser. It’s totally clear from the context of his writing, and the substance, that he’s not to be taken seriously.

It’s a willful misreading of his stuff to take it as anything other than throwaway sarcasm.

38

james 10.26.04 at 9:54 pm

The joke doesn’t play well in the United States. Especially from a foreign source. If it had been an American paper, possibly. Apparently the idea of being sensitive to other cultures does not apply to the United States. At least Charlie Brooker had the good sense to apologize.

39

Heraldlbog 10.27.04 at 12:47 am

Mr. Brooker could set everything right again if he made a joke about assassinating Yassar Arafat.

I didn’t think so.

40

jet 10.27.04 at 3:19 am

Yeah, Sebastian. When I grow up, I want to be smart like you.

Ann Coulter’s being fired from a job seems like a very major consequence for saying something stupid. But apparently she should have been beaten by her husband, or stoned to death, because getting canned isn’t a big enough “desert” for her.

“Pox on all” makes a good point too. You can’t defend one person by claiming another person’s identical dreadful actions went unpunished (and don’t claim satire, cause last I checked blackface was still incredibely offensive). Or did two wrongs start making a right? I always did forget when to find the integral of a right and derivative of a wrong.

41

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.27.04 at 6:56 am

It seems that Brooker has actually apologized. And it seems to be a real apology. So unless he is joking now, that is good enough for me.

42

Ginger Yellow 10.27.04 at 1:13 pm

“And hell, I’m not even asking that he be fired. I would love a mere acknowledgement that he crossed the line and that the comment should never have been published in the Guardian. “

Well you’re not going to get it from me. Brooker “crosses the line” every single time he puts pen to paper. That, for the umpteenth time, is the whole point. As I said before, take a look at TVGoHome. Just to take a random sample, the last listing he published has a programme called “It Shouldn’t Happen To A… Blameless Child”. The most commonly featured programme on TVGoHome is called C*nt (which by the way is being made into a real programme with Chris Morris).

“If on the same page, in the same font, the message had not been “killing George Bush is kinda funny and a good thing” but something like “God I hate dirty niggers,” then everyone who is DEFENDING the “joke” would be up in arms, and vice-versa. It’s all about whose ox is getting gored.”

As dsquared says, Brooker is way ahead of you. I thought, having been through the whole South Park controversy years ago, US readers might be familiar with the concept of offending everyone. Clearly I was wrong.

43

mona 10.27.04 at 3:44 pm

No, Sebastian, don’t give up that easily, an easy apology on print is most definitely not enough. Brooker must cross the Atlantic swimming day and night then crawl on his knees all the way to the White House gates where he should hold a hunger strike until he gets an audience with King George, and then, only then, his apology will be genuine.

What we all need is inoffensive satire, a bit like compassionate conservatism. Only people who really mean it should be excused for saying and doing offensive stuff.

44

FutureTense 10.27.04 at 9:45 pm

Mona, I always thought satire had to be funny. But then maybe I’m not clever enough to understand just how risible is an invocation of the three most notorious assassins in American history. What exactly is Brooker satirizing, anyway? Bush-hating leftists?

I await the reaction of everybody in this comments section upon the first similar statement made by a conservative wacko in the event of a Kerry presidency. I hope you all take it with the same large-hearted spirit that you’ve taken Brooker’s “jest.”

45

FutureTense 10.27.04 at 9:46 pm

Mona, I always thought satire had to be funny. But then maybe I’m not clever enough to understand just how risible is an invocation of the three most notorious assassins in American history. What exactly is Brooker satirizing, anyway? Bush-hating leftists?

I await the reaction of everybody in this comments section upon the first similar statement made by a conservative wacko in the event of a Kerry presidency. I hope you all take it with the same large-hearted spirit that you’ve taken Brooker’s “jest.”

46

FutureTense 10.27.04 at 10:32 pm

Mona, I always thought satire had to be funny. But then maybe I’m not clever enough to understand just how risible is an invocation of the three most notorious assassins in American history. Ah, I see it now — whoo-hoo, my sides are splitting! What exactly is Brooker satirizing, anyway? Bush-hating leftists?

I await the reaction of everybody in this comments section upon the first similar statement made by a conservative wacko in the event of a Kerry presidency. I hope you all take it with the same large-hearted spirit that you’ve taken Brooker’s “jest.”

47

FutureTense 10.27.04 at 10:35 pm

Sorry about the triple post. It timed out the first two times I tried to post, I swear.

48

mona 10.28.04 at 8:56 am

Yeah, satire is supposed to be funny. But not everyone agrees on what’s funny. Not everyone agrees on what’s satire.

See the huge complaints about the programme simstin mentioned in the first comment on this thread.

This column was actually very restrained by comparison, and rather lazy, nothing particular original about describing Bush as mad or about that last infamous line. But the reactions to it have made the point far better than the column itself. That there’s people who claim it was a genuine call for assassination is something no parody could have achieved.

If it had been some conservative wacko saying the same about Kerry, I imagine the reactions would also depend similarly on whether it was meant as obvious joke or earnest opinion, and whether that wacko was a comedian, or a political commentator. Howard Stern, or a major newspaper columnist – I think you’ll agree that changes the context a bit. Likewise, if what Brooker wrote had been written by the Guardian editor in a serious opinion piece.

Thickness strikes in bipartisan fashion, so maybe you’d have gotten the very same reactions had this been Stern and Kerry. But unfortunately there seem to be more conservative wackos who say deeply offensive and tasteless stuff in earnest than tasteless comedians who say tasteless things in obvious sarcastic mode, whatever the target. The two things cannot be compared, but the reactions can indeed. Interestingly, the former don’t seem to trouble the delicate tastes of the conservative American public that much.

49

Greg 10.28.04 at 3:26 pm

If anyone’s interested, I’ve scanned in the article in question and posted it on my site, just a tiny bit bigger than it was originally published.

You’ll get some idea of just how insignificant this article was, tucked away in the middle of the Guide, one tiny bit of the Saturday Guardian, which includes the main paper, the Review section, three separate supplements on sport, travel, and jobs and money, the Weekend magazine, and yes, the Guide.

Comments on this entry are closed.