Tweets, retweets, deleted tweets, disowned tweets. In less than 24 hours, one of America’s most popular TV shows came to a screeching halt, in a series of tweet-induced train wrecks.
The end came swiftly for Roseanne early on the morning of Tuesday, May 29. After a controversial relaunch of the ’80s-’90s TV hit in late March, the show’s namesake, Roseanne Barr — lately known for her outspoken conservatism and wildly offensive remarks on social media — took to Twitter early Tuesday morning with the following tweet: “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” “VJ” meant Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.
Following outrage on social media, Barr deleted the original tweet and tweeted an apology to Jarrett, but the damage was already done. By late morning, ABC announced the show was canceled.
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey wrote in the network's statement. Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney, ABC’s parent company, tweeted: “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” ICM Partners, by mid-afternoon, also dropped Barr as a client. “What she wrote is antithetical to our core values, both as individuals and as an agency. Consequently, we have notified her that we will not represent her.”
Barr has been vocal about her conservative views on U.S.-Israeli politics and, more recently, the relocation of the American Embassy. In the racist tweet that ultimately doomed her show, she directed her attack at one person: Jarrett, who has become a target of anti-Muslim groups because she was born in Iran and is also African-American. Dungey, who became ABC’s first African-American president in 2016, was put in a difficult position — ignore a racially charged tweet or set an important precedent on behalf of the network.
The celebrity's ongoing Twitter behavior has not only included political views; she also has used the platform on more than one occasion to amplify fake news and conspiracy theories. In this case, the tweet was prompted by combining a conspiracy theory and fake news claiming that Jarrett said years ago that she wanted America to become a “more Islamic country.” Investigative website Snopes concluded this to be inaccurate. As the day progressed, Barr realized her error and retweeted people who called for fact-checking.
Jarrett, appearing in an MSNBC town hall about racism in America on Tuesday evening, spoke about the day's events and referenced the resulting cancellation of Roseanne: “I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment” about “those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day.”
Meanwhile, Roseanne cast and staff took to social media to share their feelings. Sara Gilbert, Roseanne co-star on both the original series and the relaunch, and the reboot's executive producer, tweeted: “Roseanne’s recent comments about Valerie Jarrett, and so much more, are abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show. I am disappointed in her actions to say the least.”
“It’s terrible that all the cast
Former Roseanne writer David Raether shared his experience working on the show and his views on Barr, then and now. “I worked on 111 episodes of Roseanne back in the 1990s. She was a brilliant and funny woman, and a difficult and demanding boss. In recent years she has fallen into apparently believing and fomenting a lot of conspiracy theories. It’s incredibly disappointing,” Raether told L.A. Weekly. “Her tweet about Valerie Jarrett was a new low but well within the spectrum of racist horseshit that she has been trafficking in for several years now. It’s terrible that all the cast, writers and crew have to lose jobs because of this crap she decided to spew. I hope this incident is a step toward societal rejection of this crap.”
Roxane Gay, a prolific, acclaimed author and opinion writer for The New York Times, shared her insight, adding to an op-ed she had previously written about the show's relaunch: “For once, a major network did the right thing. But before it did the right thing, it did the wrong thing. It is not new information that Roseanne Barr makes racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic statements and is happy to peddle all manner of conspiracy theories. ABC knew this when it greenlighted the Roseanne reboot. … The cast, the writers and the producers knew what Ms. Barr stood for when they agreed to work on the show. … It was only when Ms. Barr became an immediate liability that everyone involved finally looked at her racism and dealt with it directly.”
Those defending Barr have criticized ABC for canceling the show and are asking for a boycott of the network, using the hashtag #boycottABC. They also brought up a 2013 joke Bill Maher made about Donald Trump in which he said he would donate $5 million to charity if Mr. Trump proved he was not spawn of an orangutan. The joke was in reference to Trump calling for Obama’s birth certificate. Trump sued Maher and later withdrew the suit, but Trump backers have not forgotten.
Not wanting to add fuel to the fire, Barr tweeted: “Please don’t start all of that boycott abc stuff — I’m not a censor and they have the right to do what they wish. It’[s] all ok. thanks tho guys!”
By late afternoon, Viacom had ceased airing the original series on cable and Hulu (partly owned by Disney) had also dropped the show. Barr jumped back onto Twitter in the evening, posting several tweets apologizing to those who worked on her show. “Don’t feel sorry for me, guys!! I just want to apologize to the hundreds of people, and wonderful writers (all liberal) and talented actors who lost their jobs on my show due to my stupid tweet. I will be on Joe Rogan’s podcast Friday.”
Around 9 p.m. Pacific time, Barr tweeted: “hey guys, don’t defend me, it’s sweet of you 2 try, but…losing my show is 0 compared 2 being labelled a racist over one tweet — that I regret even more.”
“I’m sorry for my tweet, AND I will also defend myself as well as talk to my followers. so go away if u don’t like it. I will handle my sadness the way I want to. I’m tired of being attacked & belittled more than other comedians who have said worse,” Barr tweeted (and deleted), as much for herself as for the benefit of her fans.
In an attempt to explain her original tweet, Barr made another joke that backfired: “guys I did something unforgiveable so do not defend me. It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting — it was memorial day too — i went 2 far & do not want it defended — it was egregious Indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn’t but… don’t defend it please. ty”
Soon that tweet caught wind on social media, leading to a response from Saofi, the company that makes Ambien: “People of all races, religions, and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”
Barr later removed her tweet about Ambien, but not before it had become a meme. Yet even as that festered, her fans were encouraging her to defend herself, comparing her remarks to others made by comedians and commentators.
Some of Barr’s tweets implored followers to stop defending her. Other tweets that she retweeted claimed she didn’t know Jarrett’s race. Many had expected Trump to come to Barr’s defense on Twitter. Rather than reiterating his support of her show, instead, he tweeted about ABC and took the opportunity to lambaste the media. “Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ‘ABC does not tolerate comments like those’ made by Roseanne Barr, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn’t get the call?”
Around the same time, Barr made a statement in defense of her own record: “I’m not a racist, I never was & I never will be. One stupid joke in a lifetime of fighting 4 civil rights 4 all minorities, against networks, studios, at the expense of my nervous system / family / wealth will NEVER be taken from me.”
For Barr, the maelstrom kept coming. By midday Wednesday, her Twitter account had become its own reality show. In the first 24 hours following her damning tweet, she gained more than 70,000 new followers. Rather than shrinking away, she appeared to have changed her approach. In a follow-up tweet, she wrote: “you guys make me feel like fighting back. I will examine all of my options carefully and get back to U.”
Indeed, Barr may have lost her TV spot, but she has clearly retained her platform. The show won't go on, but Roseanne Barr's third act may be yet to come.