Scorecard: The Roseanne Crisis

Roseanne Barr

Despite its surprisingly stellar ratings, the revival of “Roseanne” came to a screeching halt this week after the show’s star joked about Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett’s race (and appearance) on Twitter, saying “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.

Barr’s objectionable Tweet has forced a number of high profile individuals and organizations in the spotlight – and their responses under a microscope. We’ve graded some of the reactions, based on response time, the response itself and actions taken as a result.


The network’s response was swift and effective. Just hours after Barr’s Tweet, President Channing Dungey, “the first African-American to run the entertainment division of a major broadcast television network,” announced the show’s demise. In a statement, Dungey said, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.

Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of ABC’s parent company Walt Disney quickly echoed Dungey’s sentiment on Twitter saying, “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.

Now, one could argue that a better course of action would be to fire Roseanne instead of the entire cast and crew. Plenty of shows have survived without their celebrity headliner – Two and Half Men sans Charlie Sheen is a recent example, but regardless of whether ABC Entertainment did the exact right thing at the appropriate time, they definitely said the appropriate thing at the right time.

Both Dungey and Iger were careful to criticize the action – not the person behind it. Pulling the show for Barr’s comment was a bold statement: This company will not support hatred, no matter the cost. However, by refusing to directly attack Barr on a personal level, the companies walked a fine line with grace and balance, satisfying Barr’s critics without isolating her biggest fans.

Roseanne: D-

Barr could have left this scenario with a C+ (maybe even a B-) if she knew when to pump the breaks. To her credit, she immediately acknowledged that she was wrong and apologized via Twitter, and then agreed to step out of the spotlight until the dust settled. However, she shot herself in the foot when – hours after saying, “I apologize. I am now leaving Twitter” – instigated a Tweet storm filled with excuses and retaliation.

As reported in The New York Times, “Ms. Barr’s overnight barrage comprised apologetic remarks, aggrieved statements, personal attacks, fond messages to her supporters and pointed references to the shadowy conspiracy theories that have long been a staple of her social media presence.”

Some examples:

  • Playing the victim – “I’m sorry 4 my tweet, AND I will also defend myself as well as talk to my followers. so, go away if u don’t like it. I will handle my sadness the way I want to. I’m tired of being attacked & belittled more than other comedians who have said worse.”
  • Playing dumb – “I honestly thought she [Jarrett] was Jewish and Persian-ignorant of me for sure, but…i did.”
  • Blaming others – (Retweeting Herman Cain on Fox) “I believe they were looking for a reason to cancel #Roseanne and here’s why. Even though the show was a ratings success, forces within ABC didn’t like the fact that her conservative defense of certain things was so popular.”

Barr also lashed out at her colleagues and co-stars and attributed her behavior to the sleep aide Ambien, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Barr’s impulsive, wishy-washy commentary diminished the sincerity of her apology and instead, made her look disingenuous, vindictive and even unstable.

Sanofi: A+

Ambien was the number one trending topic on Twitter May 30 after Barr defensively claimed she was under the influence of the drug when she Tweeted the racist comment:

“guys I did something unforgiveable so do not defend me. It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting — it was memorial day too — i went 2 far & do not want it defended — it was egregious Indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn’t but…don’t defend it please”

“Not giving excuses for what I did(tweeted) but I’ve done weird stuff while on ambien — cracked eggs on the wall at 2am etc.”

While she subsequently deleted all of her Tweets about the medication, the potential damage was already done.

Sanofi – the company that makes Ambien – cleverly responded to the accusation Wednesday morning, saying “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” Short, sweet and to the point. Well played, Sanofi.

The most important lesson to be learned in this unfortunate situation is, in times of crisis, sometimes less is more. Both ABC and Sanofi could have fueled the fire by engaging in a debate or arguing with critics and opponents, but as we saw with Roseanne, doing so would just prolong the conversation and continue to garner unwanted attention. Sometimes it’s better to just stop talking.

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