When the Loss of Shame Is the Key to Fame
Greg Gutfeld illustrates the degradation of our political media.
Last week, a tweet by Fox News host Greg Gutfeld caught my eye:
I thought he made a good point — one that I’ve made myself countless times in my own writing over the years: without individuals of influence holding our public servants to standards of competence, the results can be destructive. Gutfeld gave three examples, and I could certainly list many more.
But the tweet also kind of irritated me, because if anyone has proven himself over the last several years to be an absolutely terrible messenger on this issue, it’s Greg Gutfeld.
It’s a shame, really. Gutfeld has enjoyed an audience of millions on the country’s top cable-news network for quite some time now. His words carry weight. And once upon a time, unlike many of his Fox News colleagues, he was pretty comfortable using his platform to call out incompetency and the abdication of gatekeepers on both sides of the aisle. Sure, he’s always leaned right in his views, but he was anything but a partisan hack. He spoke out against irresponsible players, called out defenses of ineptitude and toxic practices, mocked conspiracy theories (including some of the most popular on the right), and exposed political grifters. Comedy may have been his forte, but the man had principles. And he didn’t turn those principles on and off to accommodate a political tribe.
This was unmistakably on display during the 2016 election, when Gutfeld would take on Eric Bolling, his fellow co-host on The Five, over Bolling’s shameless reversal of many long-preached political stances to outright promote the candidacy of his friend, Donald Trump. In fact, I heard from someone at Fox in January of that year that Gutfeld was helping to circulate a column of mine that detailed Bolling’s transformation, along with what I called an “exodus of ideology” among other prominent media-conservatives (including thought leaders) — individuals who, upon losing significant portions of their audience to the allure of Trumpism, rebranded as Trump toadies.
Gutfeld, at the time, recognized the dishonesty and audacity of the choices Bolling and others were making. He understood those choices came not only at the expense of those people’s credibility, but also the conservative movement, the network he worked for, media consumers, and the presidency itself. And Gutfeld wasn’t afraid to say so in front of the cameras.
“Donald’s not to blame for being Donald. The fault lies with those who yield to his rules — that either you’re a groupie or a traitor. But in reality, critics beat both. Groupies offer little insight — just rope and dope. His repeat defenders always paint Trump’s gaffes as blunt honesty, which turns them into Bill Maher’s audience: compliant; they let stuff slide… When you perceive criticism as disloyalty, you turn fans into minions. But criticism is your guardrail.”
He was exactly right, and he added this shot at the right-wing media’s handling of Trump:
“In the end, the ideal leader speaks for you, not the reverse. Trump’s your id, but he’s not your conscience. And so we embraced him, exposing T.V.’s true purpose, which is ratings. An election is in 16 months, but ratings come out for us every single day, and Trump delivers.”
Hear, hear! That was the Greg Gutfeld I used to respect and appreciate. But we all know where things ended up.
Trump unexpectedly won the presidency, and it became clear that the direction Fox had shifted in over election season (to maintain viewership) would settle into a permanent business model for the network — or at least for the next four years. Choices needed to be made. The talking heads who served as the “groupies” or “minions” Gutfeld touched on would find job-security and new opportunities at the network. The righties who wouldn’t play ball would likely find themselves on borrowed time.
Gutfeld, to the disappointment of many longtime admirers (including myself), decided on the former. His conversion may have taken a little longer than most, but it was no less profound. He went from perhaps the network’s most irreverent, independent political voice to one of its most sycophantic. He served as a loyal Trump defender, apologist, and attack-dog.
That loyalty didn’t go unrecognized.
“All the way home.”
Gutfeld, who had previously called criticism a “guardrail,” certainly still had plenty of it to dish out to the left… along with pretty much anyone on the right who had the gall to speak negatively about Donald Trump. But when it came to Trump himself, the leader of the free world (who lied incessantly, fawned over brutal tyrants, botched a pandemic, made glaringly bigoted statements, used defense funding to try and extort political dirt from a foreign ally, hatched an idiotic Afghanistan policy with the Taliban, added nearly $8 trillion to the debt… and of course tried to overturn U.S. democracy, and caused a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, all because he couldn’t cope with losing an election), the strongest critiques Gutfeld could muster were tepid, often ridiculous rationalizations. Well, that and the obligatory whatboutism that has become a big part of his professional brand.
Exempting a powerful public official from every standard you readily hold others to, and reliably going on the attack against anyone who tries to hold that individual accountable for wrongdoing, may be fair game in the world of political commentary. It does, however, disqualify you from being able to speak credibly in defense of standards.
So, when I saw that Gutfeld tweet from last week lecturing on the “abdication of gatekeepers of competence,” I felt compelled to point out the discrepancy:
Gutfeld responded. And he did so with a statement that was pretty disgusting, even for him.
You see folks, by commenting on Gutfeld’s abdication as a gatekeeper for competence, I’m excusing pedophilia.
A perfectly sensible argument made by a well-adjusted adult, right?
It’s just another example of Gutfeld’s shamelessness. He had no real defense of what I wrote. He knows better than anyone that he sold out, but my words for whatever reason still stung. So, he decided to break out a pair of tweezers, pry out one of three examples from the broad statement he’d made in his tweet, and disgracefully present my issue with him — to his 2.5 million Twitter followers — as amounting to pedophilia-apologia.
Oh, and in case you think he may have responded that way out of some earnest misunderstanding on his part, I’ll note that he turned off replies to his tweet...
… assuredly to keep me and lots of others from directly responding to his perverse accusation with — you know — the truth about the exchange:
The tactic Gutfeld employed here is similar to a practice we see fairly often on the left, when someone shouts “racist!” or “homophobe!” to bring an exchange to a screeching halt. As I wrote last year, the modern right prefers the “pedophile!” variant, but the foregone conclusion is the same: a pile-on of knee-jerk idiocy.
As of the time I’m writing this, that pile-on is still very much underway:
Just “rope and dope.” Congratulations, Greg.
The trolls are easily enough dismissed or blocked, of course, and any good-faith reading of our actual exchange makes it crystal clear that Gutfeld, as is often the case these days, was being a dishonest broker. But like I said, it’s a tragedy what’s happened to this guy. He has succumbed to just about every nasty element of partisanship and political commentary he used to reject.
But with the loss of shame has undeniably come great fame, and with it a resounding validation of what the old Greg Gutfeld called “T.V.’s true purpose.”
I hope it’s been worth it.