As part of the growing backlash to the backlash against Rush Limbaugh for his recent comments regarding Sandra Fluke, the host’s defenders have already latched onto Bill Maher as someone whose own remarks about women are every bit as misogynistic as Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute,” if you just remove them from all context. Now another, even more unlikely comedian is caught in the fray: Louis C.K., who late last week became a symbol of that alleged liberal hypocrisy, after Fox News correspondent Greta Van Susteren took a break from chewing on the day’s salient topics to blast him in a blog post as a “pig” who “denigrates all women”—though specifically Sarah Palin, citing a series of drunken tweets C.K. made in 2010, in which he spent a turbulent flight waxing rum-and-coke-fueled rhapsodic about Palin’s “cunt.” A just-now-highly-offended Van Susteren (long one of Palin’s most ardent champions) concluded by calling for a media boycott of the upcoming Radio And Television Congressional Correspondents dinner, where C.K. was scheduled to perform.
Somewhat surprisingly, she got her wish: Only a day after her post, C.K. pulled out of the gig, his representative saying only, “He just didn’t want to do it anymore”—which naturally gave rise to speculation that his change of heart was because C.K. wished to avoid getting mired any further in this sort of controversy. That seems likely, given that C.K. has expressed regret in the past over those Palin comments—not for all the “cunt” stuff, but for getting into a political arena he doesn’t like dabbling in—but he’s also defended most of them as comedy, albeit in its basest, most id-driven form. But rather than respond directly, he’s mostly let Van Susteren’s larger question of whether Louis C.K. “denigrates all women” be answered by things such as the content of his actual act, his general demeanor, and his life with two daughters (whom, admittedly, he sometimes hates for reasons besides their gender).
But he now has another defender in Michael Ian Black, who wrote a blog response to Van Susteren congratulating her for so effortlessly getting her way, but also elucidating the differences between Limbaugh’s comments and C.K.’s—pointing out that Limbaugh made clear that his was not “a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” but rather a more general request to all women who wanted to be all slutty by getting their birth control covered by insurance (and regulating their hormones like a common whore), saying they should repay him by posting videos of themselves having sex online so he could watch. “It fits perfectly within the larger context of Rush Limbaugh’s twenty-plus years of ad hominem attacks on ‘feminazis’ and gratuitous comments about all female journalists as ‘news babes,’” Black writes. He then continues:
With Louis, his insult was actually the opposite: it was a highly personal attack. The target of his insult, Sarah Palin, so infuriated him that he felt the need to call her the very worst name he could think of. His insult referred to a specific woman at a specific time and place.
Did Louis cross the line? Yeah. Did Bill Maher? Yeah. Have I at times? Yeah. Has Greta Van Susteren ever crossed the line? Have you, in your personal conversations? Yeah. We all have. The difference is context. Do a Google search of the horrible shit Rush Limbaugh has said about women. Then do a search on Louis C.K. See if it’s comparable.
Clearly this is a loaded debate, fraught with personal and political bias that makes it somewhat hard to look at objectively. Van Susteren’s sudden, “Well what about your guy?” attack on Louis C.K. is so obviously a knee-jerk rebuttal to the outrage over Limbaugh that the false equivalency, combined with her all but ignoring Limbaugh’s comments, creates a vast hall of mirrors of hypocrisy (shittiest carnival attraction ever, by the way). And thus really, as always, this all boils down to who said what about whom and whether you already like them, and we're not even going to pretend as though we don't like Louis C.K. a whole lot more than Rush Limbaugh or Greta Van Susteren.
But as Maher (who’s stood up for Limbaugh’s right to be “a stupid fat fuck who’s not funny”) said recently on his show, Maher is demonstrably just a “pottymouth,” not a misogynist. And as his guest, author Catherine Crier, then pointed out, there’s also a difference between calling all women who stand up for contraception “prostitutes” and someone talking shit specifically about Sarah Palin. And although he clearly doesn’t want to do so himself, the same arguments could be (and have been) made for Louis C.K. Unfortunately, that sort of context just gets in the way when you’re having these sorts of debates, and that—combined with Louis C.K. essentially just saying, "Fuck it"—is how Van Susteren won.