“Sorry for breaking America,” said political satirist Samantha Bee, wasting no time Wednesday upon the opening of her show in addressing the firestorm she ignited last week when she referred to Ivanka Trump as “a feckless” c-word during the May 30 episode of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”
It was the former “Daily Show” correspondent’s first television appearance since the segment caused the White House to demand TBS cancel Bee’s hit show, and stoked social media’s overworked outrage machine. The comedian who’s made a career riffing on the news found herself at the center of it for saying a word she’s used before on her show, but not in the context of describing another woman.
But rather than dropping a quick mea culpa to assuage her detractors and the network, Bee continued in an uncharacteristically solemn tone:
“A lot of people were offended and angry that I used an epithet to describe the president’s daughter and adviser last week. I crossed a line and I do apologize for that. The problem is that many women have heard that word at the worst moments of their lives. A lot of women don’t want that word reclaimed, they want it gone and I don’t blame them. I don’t want to inflict more pain on them.”
Then Bee joked, “Many men were also offended by my use of the word. I do not care about that. I never intended it to hurt anyone, except Ted Cruz.”
The uproar was part of an ongoing culture war between the left and the right over recent incidents in the media that have offended and angered both sides.
The same week of those Bee comments, ABC canceled “Roseanne” after star Roseanne Barr used a “Planet of the Apes” reference to describe former Obama administration adviser Valerie Jarrett (not to be confused with the other ape reference she used in the past to describe another black Obama adviser). Weeks before that, comedian Michelle Wolf – another former “Daily Show” contributor – was lambasted for making “vile” jokes about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ looks during her hosting gig at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Last week, Sanders responded to Bee’s description of Ivanka Trump in a statement that suggested executives at TBS “must demonstrate that such explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned on its network.”
TBS apologized within hours, as did Bee.
On Wednesday, however, Bee wasn’t about to turn her show into a chaste public apology forum. She went right back to the subject she was tackling when she dropped the C-bomb – immigration and the detention of thousands of migrant children who’d been separated from their parents after being seized at the border.
“I should have known that a potty-mouthed insult would be inherently more interesting than juvenile immigration policy,” she said. “I would do anything to help those kids. I hate that this distracted from them, so to them, I am also sorry. ”
“Last week on the show, I talked about how Trump is expanding Obama’s terrible immigration policies, and is now ripping all migrant kids apart from their families at the border. Since none of you saw more than four letters of that show, here is an update. As I explained last week before I blacked out and woke up covered in blood.”
She went on to roast Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions for saying in a recent news clip that it was absolutely necessary to take migrant children from their parents at the border and detain them.
The jokes didn’t stop there. To her right sat a panel of officious-looking men at a desk equipped with buzzers. She explained they were there to make sure she didn’t slip up again.
She was referring to them as she said “Thankfully, I don’t think we’ll ever be having this controversy ever again so. ”
“Escargot!” one of them yelled as if she had dropped another curse word.
“What? I’m not swearing,” she said. “I’m just trying.”
“Kids go slow!” yelled another.
“OK, we’re working out the kinks,” she joked.
The very fact that Bee still has a show and that Barr’s was cancelled after her tweet became fodder for right-wing critics who repeated a familiar refrain – that they’ve been unfairly victimized by the liberal media. They used both incidents as examples of an unbalanced system.
But over the weekend, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah told The Times, “What was interesting to me was how people conflated issues and ideas. They went, ‘Oh, Roseanne was the same as Sam Bee,’” he said at the comedy festival Clusterfest. “I was like, ‘Look, man, one white woman calling another white woman a word is not the same as a white person calling a black person an ape. We’re dealing with different issues here.’”
Other comedians stood up for Bee, saying she shouldn’t have been made by the network to apologize for doing what comedians are supposed to do – challenge people and make them laugh.
Bee also addressed her critics who claimed they worried about civility. They are some of the very same people who support a president who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women.
“I’m really sorry that I said that word, but you know what? Civility is just nice words. Maybe we should all worry a little bit more about the niceness of our actions,” she said.
She ended her half-hour show with a news clip of former POTUS Bill Clinton, who was asked if he felt he should apologize to Monica Lewinsky, the intern he had an affair with during his presidency. No, he said.
Bee smirked and said: “I promised I would never call anyone that word again. But make no mistake, I can think it.”