Ed Driscoll

Epic Shales

Newsbusters catches Tom Shales, the Washington Post’s veteran liberal TV critic, shooting himself in the foot twice in his recent missives regarding embattled show business icons. First up, Tim Graham writes:


Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales assembled all of his excuses for David Letterman’s sexual relations with staff subordinates in Tuesday’s paper. The website headline: “A Clown, Not a Congressman: David Letterman is going to be lumped in with other misbehaving celebrities. Is that fair?” Shales feels that comedians who makes jokes about sexually reckless politicians like Bill Clinton should not be mocked when they act exactly like Clinton. He began:

One of many sad things about recent stanzas in the ballad of David Letterman is that now, in all media, Dave will be lumped in with other sexually misbehaving celebrities, even though he stands head and heart above most of them.

The echoes of Roman Polanski swirl in the Shales piece – the keenest comic minds should be allowed to think with their traveling pants. Shales can’t grasp the elementary-school rules of mockery: a fat kid can’t exactly laugh at another kid for being fat. An old man having sex with much younger women in the office can’t make fun of Bill Clinton very effectively, either. But Shales think clowns and jesters should be free of the charge of hypocrisy:

Some of those who’ve seen the current Letterman mess as a golden opportunity to trash and attack him claim that it’s fit retribution for the jokes Dave has made about naughty-boy politicians and their sexual high jinks. Letterman can continue to lampoon sleazy political figures with no real fear of hypocrisy, however, because a TV comic is not an elected official responsible for the well-being of the nation or its citizenry.

Letterman’s monologue is not a nightly sermon full of moral lessons preached to politicians or the public. His stance is that of the proverbial court jester, a clownish figure with a mandate to prick the powerful — not set himself up as a model of virtue.

Did Shales – and his editors – really miss the idea that “prick the powerful” is probably not a good choice of words at this juncture? Shales made it clear that Letterman was more victimized than victimizer in the current scandal.


But then, Shales thinks much the same of Roman Polanski, as Mark Finkelstein notes:

WaPo TV critic Tom Shales [file photo] has come up with a creative new defense of Roman Polanski: Hollywood thirteen-year olds aren’t really thirteen.

NB reader FT pointed us to an online exchange between a reader and Shales today that included this [emphasis added]:

Tom Shales: Hello, Dunn Loring, I didn’t want to sign off without trying to answer your question. I didn’t realize I had written a column defending Roman Polanski and minimized his crime – are you sure it was me? I mean, I? There is, apparently, more to this crime than it would seem, and it may sound like a hollow defense, but in Hollywood I am not sure a 13-year-old is really a 13-year-old.

As reader FT observed: “So according to Shales, it’s OK to rape a 13 year-old if she’s from California, apparently because they grow up faster there.”

For that matter, judging by the victim’s grand jury testimony, what Polanski did might well have been “rape-rape” even by Whoopi Goldberg’s standards, and regardless of the victim’s age.

But leave it to Shales to join the liberal wagon-circling around one of their own.

Note: this isn’t the first time Shales has risen to Polanski’s defense.  Last year he wrote a sympathetic review of a movie that characterized the prosecution of Polanski as a “perversion of justice.”

And now for some comic relief: In the same response in which he made his suggestion that Polanski should be let off the hook because Hollywood 13-year olds are different, Shales wrote [emphasis added]:

I am a critic, I don’t have to be “fair and balanced” and critize every faction equally. I swear to you I do not do it on ideological or political grounds, not consciously.


Of course not, because “CONSERVATIVES DOMINATE THE BROADCAST AND CABLE MEDIA IN THIS COUNTRY”, as Shales typed last month in all caps (the Internet equivalent of screaming at the top of your lungs) during a previous WaPo Web chat.

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