Some representative news stories from the last few months:
These victims of cancel culture — and most others, from Woody Allen to Louis C.K. — have one thing in common: they were canceled because they offended woke sensibilities.
But when the New York Times decides to run a sympathetic profile of someone who’s been canceled, whom does it pick? Why, none other than Kathy Griffin — the stridently anti-Trump comedienne whose career was stalled in May 2017 when she posted online a photo of herself holding what looked like Donald Trump’s bloody severed head. Even leftists were shocked — or professed to be. CNN fired her from her most high-profile gig, the annual New Year’s Eve broadcast with Anderson Cooper. Cooper himself, who’d been a close friend, threw her under the bus, pronouncing himself “appalled” and calling the photo “disgusting and completely inappropriate.” (True, but no more outrageous than the falsehoods served up daily by him and other CNN hacks over the last few years.)
Fortunately for her, she was a Trump-hater under a Trump A.G., rather than a Trump supporter under a Biden A.G.
Still, Griffin had no right to complain. She’s a hell of a lucky woman. When you get right down to it, she’s not exactly a comic. A better label would be professional gossip. Her act consists of anecdotes about recent encounters with celebrities who are bigger than she is. The joke is always that she’s pushy and obnoxious, with more ambition than talent and more guts than class. Her strategy is to get the audience on her side by painting herself as one of them — a plebeian, only one who’s stumbled into fame and is still dazzled by it. This schtick remained the same throughout her reality series on Bravo, Kathy Griffin: Life on the D-List (2005-2010), and in all twenty — yes, twenty — of her Bravo and HBO stand-up specials (1996-2019).
For years she thrived. She won a Grammy and two Emmys. (Accepting the first, she said: “Suck it, Jesus, this award is my award now!”) But then — ever seeking attention, pushing the taste envelope, and expecting lefties to applaud her for it — she took that photo. And the savvier leftists realized it wasn’t a good look for them. Even Rosie O’Donnell, that notorious Trump nemesis, urged Griffin to apologize. How, O’Donnell asked her, would the parents of Daniel Pearl — the Wall Street Journal reporter decapitated by terrorists — react? (This, by the way, is the nicest thing I’ve ever heard about Rosie O’Donnell.) So Griffin apologized. But then she took it back.
And there followed four and a half years of what Katherine Rosman, author of the January 19 Times profile, “Kathy Griffin Is Trying to Get Back on the D-List,” would have you believe was personal torment second eclipsed only by the nightmare that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went through on January 6, 2021. “Ever since her Trump joke went wrong in 2017,” reads the deck on Rosman’s piece, “Griffin has been seeking a professional rebirth, and wondering who among the canceled gets a second chance.”
The Times, fretting about second chances for the canceled? That’s pretty rich for a rag that’s been on the front lines of the cancel wars. I’m one of many former contributors who are now personae non gratae there. Two years ago, op-ed editor James Bennet resigned after staffers protested his publication of a thoroughly reasonable article by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). Soon afterwards, Bari Weiss, a liberal Times editor, also quit, complaining about the paper’s systematic purging of “wrongthink” in fealty to an ideologically driven narrative.
Rosman’s profile of Griffin serves this narrative splendidly, focusing as it does on a rare example of cancel culture that can’t be blamed on the woke brigade. Rosman starts by trying to gin up our sympathy on medical grounds (“Kathy Griffin met last summer with a surgeon to discuss the removal of the upper lobe of her left lung”). She then invites us to feel sorry for Griffin because Search Party, a series on HBO Max, is her “first TV role in five years that wasn’t based on the notoriety” arising from the severed-head photo. Quelle tragedie!
On to Rosman’s interview with Griffin at “her Malibu, Calif., home,” where the diva “has tried to puzzle out who among the culturally damned gets a second chance in our society, who doesn’t and why.” Yeah, right — as if Griffin’s ever cared about “the culturally damned,” or anyone but herself. This is a woman who was helped up the comedy ladder by Joan Rivers but who, after Rivers’ 2014 death, “s–t all over my mother’s legacy,” as Melissa Rivers put it. Rosman mentions that Griffin is worth $50 million — but we’re apparently expected to find such wealth meaningless when all that Griffin really wants is, in her own words, “to get back to making people laugh.”
Rosman also cites Griffin’s fear, after her photo was posted, that the Justice Department might come after her. But that never happened: fortunately for her, she was a Trump-hater under a Trump A.G., rather than a Trump supporter under a Biden A.G. Then there’s Griffin’s claim that she’s a victim of “the patriarchy” and her comparison of Andy Cohen, who replaced her on the CNN New Year’s show (where, this time around, in violation of CNN dogma, he vilified outgoing New York Mayor Bill de Blasio), to the schemingly ambitious Eve Harrington in the 1950 film All About Eve.
Rosman acknowledges that Griffin, despite supposedly being cruelly canceled, did a 17-country tour in 2017 — but what do massive paydays and cheering crowds at the Sydney Opera House matter when she “cried through panic attacks” every night? (All the while, in any event, she kept spewing bile at Trump — whom, during that tour, she smeared on one Swedish-Norwegian talk show as an “accidental president” who “conspired with Russians” and won the White House thanks only to “gerrymandering and an outdated electoral college system.”)
That 2017 world tour was succeeded the next year by a 24-city U.S. tour “including shows at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall.” But Grifffin still considered herself canceled, because nobody — boo-hoo — wanted to distribute her documentary or to book her on a TV show. The result: a “physical and emotional strain” that led her to be hooked on “Provigil, Ativan, Klonopin, Vicodin, Xanax and Adderall.” But finally, after a spell in rehab and a bout of cancer, the clouds began to part: she was asked to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live — an indication that her exile from glory might be nearing its end. And now, here’s this glorious bouquet in the world’s most overrated newspaper.
Fortunately, even Times readers — that reliably lockstep species — weren’t all buying this one. Yes, some took the bait, oozing empathy for Griffin and enmity toward Trump. But plenty of those who left comments at the paper’s website — many of whom admitted to being anti-Trump — complained that nonetheless, as one of them put it, Griffin had been “directly hateful toward Trump as opposed to being actually funny about him.” Many, moreover, chided the Times for trying to give a career boost to this “unfunny,” “obnoxious,” “beyond annoying,” “clueless,” “entitled” comedian. One reader asked: “If a comedian showed a bloody head of Obama, would dear NYT readers be so forgiving?” Would the Times?
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