A Brief Survey of When People Are and Aren't Punished for Acting Like Alec Baldwin

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The latest chapter in the Alec Baldwin saga is debating whether MSNBC is punishing him enough for his gay slur outburst. By not firing the salty Millard Fillmore doppelgänger, critics say the network is giving him a pass and sending a more troubling message: that gay people, and their rights, are inconsequential.

In the past week, Baldwin called a paparazzo a "cock-sucking fag" and was suspended from his talk show for two weeks. 

One of Baldwin's and MSNBC's biggest critics has been CNN's Anderson Cooper. Cooper played a game of Bad Word Olympics with his guest Andrew Sullivan last night. Usually the game is played over wine among adults trying to be philosophical, in a conversation about race and civil rights. Nevertheless, Cooper made the point that the message being sent is that calling someone a "faggot" or "fag" still isn't considered as bad as calling them the n-word. And this is disrespectful to LGBT people. Cooper said:

If Alec Baldwin had yelled the N-word to that photographer or yelled an anti-Jewish slur against that photographer, it would be over. But the F-word is a word that kids are called in school every single day. Teachers often do nothing about it.

While Baldwin has given more people proof that he's a homophobic jerk, the bigger bigger problem that concerns Cooper is that society doesn't really care about gay people if they don't punish anti-gay slurs the same way they would the n-word and anti-Semitism.

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I'd argue that slurs are not the only indicator of bigotry. Richard Cohen, for example, says some pretty offensive, dumb, racist things at The Washington Post but hasn't really ventured out to use the n-word.

When it comes to the varying degrees of severity, it's be silly to think that a hierarchy doesn't exist. Louis C.K. points out that the easiest way to tell if the word is bad is if you can't actually say it out loud (see: the n-word). But, you don't have to agree or believe in a hierarchy.  

But Cooper's words got us to thinking about some of the biggest stories over the last couple of years which involved people using slurs, insults, and saying negative things about people's race, sex, or orientation.  We also looked at whether or not they kept their jobs after. Here's a brief rundown: 

June 2011: Tracy Morgan's Rant About Murdering His Hypothetical Gay Son

Baldwin's 30 Rock co-star said something worse than Baldwin did back in 2011. During the middle of a stand-up act in Nashville, Morgan told a bunch of fans in Nashville that he would murder his son if he ever found out he was gay. A fan named Kevin Rogers wrote about the incident on his Facebook post:

He said if his son that was gay he better come home and talk to him like a man and not [he mimicked a gay, high pitched voice] or he would pull out a knife and stab that little N (one word I refuse to use) to death. ...  Tracy then said he didn't f--king care if he pissed off some gays, because if they can take a f--king d-ck up their a--... they can take a f--king joke."

The Outcome: Morgan apologized. Tina Fey apologized. Morgan worked on the show until it ended two years later. 

February 2012:  ESPN's "Chink" in the Armor

Gosh, people were saying a bunch of dumb stuff about Jeremy Lin right when he started being successful. Despite all the insults about his race (which included a small dick joke), people stopped short of using a slur. People, except ESPN and editor Anthony Federico who went with the headline "Chink in the Armor" (below), after writing a story about a Knick loss and how Lin's play factored into it. Frederico says this was all an accident. 

The Outcome: Frederico was fired one day after he wrote the headline. The anchor who read the headline on air was suspended for a month. 

December 2012: ESPN Again with "Cornball Brother"

Commentator Rob Parker, for some reason or another, decided to question the blackness of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. "Is he a brother or a cornball brother?" Parker asked during an episode of First Take. He added: "'I'm just trying to dig deeper as to why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods was like, I've got black skin, but don't call me black. So people got to wondering about Tiger Woods early on." 

The Outcome: Parker was suspended the next day. He was eventually let go a month later when his contract was not renewed.

June 2013: Alec Baldwin's Other Homophobic Remark

Alec Baldwin's latest anti-gay outburst is a big deal because it now looks like he has a habit of using gay slurs as an insult. To be honest, it's a little beyond me as to why we're surprised that someone who calls their 11-year-old daughter a "rude, thoughtless pig" is actually kind of a jerk. 

But back in June, Baldwin was offended that a Daily Mail writer insinuated his wife was tweeting during James Gandolfini's funeral. He tweeted that the writer was a "toxic little queen."

The Outcome: Baldwin wasn't really working then, and only in commercials (the companies didn't drop him). He also tried to clear things up and say that he wasn't being homophobic, but rather was trying to say that the writer was haughty (like royalty) and not of average human size. And those were the reasons he wanted to inflict violence on the writer. "I don't think it’s a call for violence against a specific person because they’re gay, it’s a call for violence against a person who lied about my wife ... I do not call on anyone to attack this guy from the Daily Mail because he's gay." Baldwin said.

June 2013: Paula Deen Crazy Racist Fantasies

Paula Deen, the gray-haired, one-time butter darling of the Food Network had a rough summer too. During a deposition in regards to discrimination suit (which was dropped), Deen revealed she had used the n-word in the past. "Yes, of course... It's just what they are — they're jokes... most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks... I can’t determine what offends another person," she told lawyers. 

She also revealed she wanted to hire black caterers to play slaves and create "really Southern plantation wedding." 

The Outcome: Deen's business partners began dropping her left and right. Her upcoming book was canceled. And Food Network decided to drop the star. That all happened within the span of two weeks.

October 2013: That Really Racist Guy on The Daily Show

Buncombe County Republican Precinct Chairman Don Yelton will forever be known as the guy who said all that racist stuff on The Daily Show. One of Yelton's lowlights included lamenting "lazy black people that wants the government to give them everything."



What we didn't know at the time was that he might be sexist too. Before his Daily Show, appearance Yelton took to his Facebook page and called CNN's Ashley Banfield a "loud mouth bitch." 

listen to this and learn [h]ow to deal with a loud mouthed bitch who suffers from anterior upas posterior. The real question is whose posterior. I think we know Obama.

The Outcome: Yelton was fired the day after his Daily Show appearance aired. 

These people, of course, don't represent every single person who has said something racist/sexist/homophobic against another human being. And perhaps Cooper has a point in these high-profile cases: people are punished more definitively and harshly when they say something racist rather than homophobic or misogynistic, sometimes even if those homophobic comments sometimes imply murder or physical violence. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.