Rosie O’Donnell Gets Sucker Punched

Aren’t ad hominem attacks the best?

You’re in the thick of it, arguing any number of topics against a more knowledgable adversary. Against the ropes, bloodied and bullied, you look for a way out of the conversation — and find it in the comforting one-two punch of calling someone a fat witch or anti-American. Sure, you’re no master orator or verbal pugilist, but who cares? The opponent is on the ground while you stand victorious over their reputation.

Media commentators are quick to battle logic with emotion for the easy win. It’s a mentality enjoyed by children on a playground, only instead of “I’m rubber, you’re glue,” the mantra is the more enlightened “you’re fat — and crazy!” There’s no comeback that doesn’t make you sound a little more frayed, a touch more insane. Sure, it’s hilarious to watch in this bread-and-circus society we call the United States, but what happens when people with legitimate opinions get knocked out by such infantile tactics?

Recent targets include Charlie Sheen and Rosie O’Donnell, who have both expressed doubts over the official story behind the events of September 11. Rather than dismiss their misgivings with evidence to the contrary, pundits have taken the lazy route afforded to namecalling. When O’Donnell asks questions about WTC7’s collapse into its own footprint, she’s labelled a “fat witch” by Glen Beck, and Sheen’s move to narrate and distribute the documentary Loose Change has demagogues shouting from the rafters about past drug usage.

Now, this column is not about what happened that day in September, and I don’t necessarily advocate the approach Sheen and O’Donnell take in raising awareness for renewed investigations. (Loose Change posits the absurd notion that a plane never struck the Pentagon, etc.) But reducing the discussion to comments about recreational activities or waist size is counterproductive and infantile. We deserve better from our news services.

Particularly when those same commentators see the sawdust in their brother’s eye and not the plank in theirs. Has Charlie Sheen enjoyed a variety of vices over the years? Absolutely. Why does that immediately discredit him? If fealty to an opinion is that brittle, can’t we safely ignore anything Bill O’Reilly says in the wake of his sexual harassment suit? (Rosie can; she’s been barred from talking about the incident by ABC.)

What about politicians fueled by drugs and alcohol over the years? President Bush is an admitted recovering alcoholic who possibly dabbled in more powerful narcotics; that hasn’t stopped millions of Americans from fawning over every carefully scripted word that falls out of his mouth. Clinton admitted to marijuana use; Kennedy sexed anything with a pulse. Heck, even FDR had an affair. By the conservative standards levied at Sheen, none of these men should be able to offer their opinion on anything. Why is a politician looked upon with greater admiration than the actor who starred in both Hot Shots! and Men at Work?

That was some classic cinema!

Men and women battle demons regardless of their station in life. But whether they fail or succeed is no indicator to how someone presents an argument. For print and broadcast media to do so only makes them look foolish.

Rosie O’Donnell has been taken to task for voicing her opinion on what really happened six years ago. That’s fine — and we can either approach those arguments and refute them on a point-by-point basis or ignore them. But calling her an enemy of America, or anti-American? How is it against the Constitution to speak freely, or to question the establishment? How does it diminish our nation to take an honest look at a pivotal moment in history and come away with questions? Is it now the case in America that we are not allowed to think, even erroneously, lest we be branded a traitor?

It would be hypocritical to demand a stop to those demonizing our fellow citizens with hateful words rather than sound logic. After all, we live in a society governed by the right to say whatever we want. And some of the tirades against O’Donnell and Sheen are pretty humorous on their face. But I would ask that if you plan to refute someone’s belief that you do it by examining their statements, determining whether or not they’re true, and provide a rebuttal. Starting an online petition to get Rosie booted from The View because she opens her mouth against the government, or because she is a terrible poet, or because she’s fat is a complete waste of energy. We’re better than that.

September 11 is a watershed moment in American history. There are millions of people who think there was government complicity in the events that played out that day. Rosie O’Donnell and Charlie Sheen are two of them. Are they absolutely right? I can’t say. But I’ll consider what they have to say with an open mind, and not wave them away because of looks or reputation.

If we do, we — “to the man” — are the ones getting sucker punched.