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Roseanne Barr isn’t new to incendiary tweets. Here’s why ABC decided to act

ABC canceled rebooted sitcom "Roseanne" on Tuesday over an offensive outburst by its creator and star. Roseanne Barr wrote a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, a former senior advisor to President Obama. William Brangham talks with Eric Deggans of NPR about ABC parting ways with what had become one of its most successful shows.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even as Starbucks closed its doors for a few hours today for that training, another major company, ABC Entertainment, had to deal with race and an offensive outburst by one of its stars.

    As William Brangham reports, ABC is suddenly parting ways with Roseanne Barr and her show, which has been the network's most popular program this season.

  • William Brangham:

    Barr's tweet this morning went after Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Obama and a black woman.

    It said, in essence, that if — quote — "The Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby," that child would be Ms. Jarrett.

    Barr tried to apologize, but, hours later, ABC canceled her series, which had just finished its run, but was scheduled to return again next year.

    Eric Deggans covers TV and culture for NPR. He joins me now.

    Eric, this obviously is not the first time that Roseanne Barr has said incendiary things. She has issued racist tweets in the past. She has promoted awful and vile conspiracy theories. But I guess this was too much for ABC. What do you make of their decision?

  • Eric Deggans:

    Well, this was first time she had done something like that in the wake of the show's revival airing on ABC.

    And it happened at a time when all eyes were on diversity issues. This is the day that Starbucks, for example, chose to retrain a bunch of its workers in the wake of its own problems with racism.

    So I think ABC acted swiftly, sent a message that open racism wouldn't be tolerated, even if it was expressed by one of its biggest stars. And given that ABC is owned by Disney, I think perhaps they acted to counter something that went counter to the Disney brand, which is all about inclusion, inclusivity, family-friendly programming.

    It seemed as if they had to act to preserve their larger brand.

  • William Brangham:

    It seems when they recommissioned this reboot of "Roseanne" in the first place, they did the calculus that the risk of bringing someone like Roseanne on board was worth the reward, in essence.

    But, today, it seems that that calculus just flipped up on its head.

  • Eric Deggans:

    Exactly.

    What we're finding with social media and also the level of political conflict that's out there is that a statement like this can be recycled endlessly and can create a tremendous amount of backlash.

    I had heard on another news channel that the Reverend Al Sharpton was thinking of perhaps organizing a boycott. I think there were other people who may have been considering similar things, trying to get ABC's attention by going to the advertisers who had patronized "Roseanne."

    So perhaps there was a sense that they wanted to act quickly to forestall something like that as well.

  • William Brangham:

    This whole "Roseanne" reboot was in some ways sold as an effort to put a prominent Trump supporter on television and to give a window into Trump's America.

    Now that she is pushed out and the show is canceled, what do you think that effort — what happens to that effort among network executives?

  • Eric Deggans:

    Well, I'm not sure that the show was actually doing that.

    I wrote a column for NPR.org that was published last week where I called that show and that idea the biggest head-fake in television. I think they had a few jokes in the very first episode of the revival that spoke to Roseanne Conner's — the character being a Trump supporter, but they never really addressed it after that.

    I do think that because Roseanne Barr, the real-life person, is a Trump supporter, they thought it might make sense to have at least one episode where Roseanne Conner talked about being a Trump supporter, and that they might get support from Trump viewers if they played that balance delicately.

    But what we have seen is that Roseanne Barr, the person, can be volatile. I think, in the end , ABC was caught in a situation where they gave a star a platform who had already said some incendiary things, and she said more incendiary things, and they had to act.

  • William Brangham:

    Eric Deggans of NPR, thank you.

  • Eric Deggans:

    Thank you.

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